In an expansion of the “extreme vetting” measures, the U.S. Department of State has announced that all nonimmigrant visa applicants must provide personal social media account information in the DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) by listing all the social media platforms they have used in the last 5 years and by providing usernames or handles used on those platforms.
These types of questions were previously reserved for situations where a consular officer determined that a visa applicant warrants additional scrutiny.
Social media accounts have long been used by many recruiters to assist in their screening efforts, but this change will make that practice even more important for both employers of foreign national applicants and foreign nationals who wish to apply for a nonimmigrant visa.
WHAT COULD THE REVIEW OF SOCIAL MEDIA INFORMATION MEAN FOR NONIMMIGRANT VISA APPLICANTS AND THEIR EMPLOYER?
A review of social media information provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with a broader view of a foreign national’s job qualifications, background, beliefs, and political inclinations that had previously only been a part of the supplemental review of applicants who DHS determined warranted further scrutiny.
Applying this additional scrutiny to all applicants for nonimmigrant visas could certainly increase the time it will take for application determinations to be received as well as the number of visa application refused under section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and placed on Administrative Processing.
DHS may use sites such a LinkedIn and others to compare the job qualification information provided on the DS-160 application to what the applicant is representing to the public and could deny the application based on inconsistencies in this information, or further delay determinations until more information is provided.
CAN A FOREIGN NATIONAL CHOOSE NOT TO PROVIDE THEIR PERSONAL SOCIAL MEDIA AND ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION INFORMATION?
All information requested on the DS-160 form is required. Omitting information would amount to making a material misrepresentation to the U.S. Government. The applicant should provide complete and accurate information on the DS-160 and ensure truthfulness and consistency between what they disclose in their public profiles and in the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. Failing to provide accurate information is likely to result in a denial and may result in a ban from further application for a U.S. visa.
WHAT ARE CONSULAR POSTS LOOKING FOR IN PERSONAL SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS?
Consulates and the various security agencies of the U.S. Government are looking for anything that may trigger national security concerns as well as fraud and misrepresentations. This may be a very broad range of things that is likely to evolve as reviews continue.
SHOULD FOREIGN NATIONALS DELETE ALL OF THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS?
Deleting all your social media accounts or presence is not a solution nor recommended mostly considering that nothing truly disappears from the internet since your public and/or shared posts may still be accessible via internet archive views using specific internet machine applications.
CAN MY ATTORNEY REVIEW MY SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS TO MAKE SURE THERE IS NOTHING PROBLEMATIC?
No, as there is no way to know exactly what items would be deemed concerning to DHS, especially as this determination could change at any time. Additionally, since it is not possible to truly remove anything from the internet, such an exercise would be unproductive. As mentioned above, it is very important to verify the truthfulness and accuracy of the information provided in your public web presence and in your personal Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
WHAT CAN A FOREIGN NATIONAL DO IF THEIR APPLICATION IS DENIED BASED ON SOCIAL MEDIA INFORMATION THAT DHS INTERPRETED IN ERROR?
This new DS-160 requirement will lead to new legal challenges. DHS may request for additional information pertaining to your social medial presence or, upon noticing any inconsistency or misrepresentations, ask for additional evidence pertaining to your education, work history, and prior U.S. and non- U.S. travels. Should you have concerns or upon this occurrence, we suggest you seek the legal advice of an immigration attorney highly experienced in visa processing.
WHAT SHOULD EMPLOYERS AND THEIR FOREIGN NATIONAL CANDIDATES DO IN RESPONSE TO THIS CHANGE?
Employers should alert their foreign national candidates to this requirement. Employers must also make it very clear that it is not an option for a foreign national to hide their personal social media information in an attempt to increase their chances of an approval. On the other hand, the foreign national may want to provide consistency in the disclosure, among others, of their education, work experience, prior U.S. and non-U.S. travels, background, membership in groups and associations, prior military experience or service and family information
WHAT CAN FOREIGN NATIONALS DO IN RESPONSE TO THE EXPANSION OF PERSONAL SOCIAL MEDIA REVIEW?
Foreign nationals should be sure that any social media containing their education, work history, travel history, certifications, memberships, prior experiences, family information, skills and abilities are kept up to date to minimize the risk that DHS find any inconsistencies. Foreign Nationals should also be sure that their ongoing personal social media posts contain nothing that they wouldn’t want their employer to see or that may be misconstrued or misinterpreted.