Washington DC, June 2, 2019 – The US Department of State recently announced that it will be explicitly requiring visa applicants who seek new visas or who are renewing existing visas to provide access to their personal social media accounts as part of the application process.
The changes are being implemented by new questions found in two electronic forms that are core for all visa applications to the US filed at US Consulates: Form DS160 — for all temporary visas — and Form DS260 — for all green cards to the US.
Visa applicants will be required to identify all of their social media accounts used in the last 5 years, including all usernames or handles used on each platform.
The revised Forms DS160 and DS260 now have a drop-down menu listing social media platforms. Visa applicants will select the appropriate social media platform(s), and then will be required to type their username, screen name, handle or other identifiers.
On the bright side, passwords for social media accounts are not requested. Also, applicants are not required to disclose social media accounts designed for a business or organization.
This policy initiative started in March 2017, when the White House announced its goal of increasing scrutiny for all visa applicants.
In practical terms, this change may not be totally new to many foreign travelers to the US (or even to other countries including Canada and the United Kingdom). For years, travelers to the US for work or tourism have been experiencing occasional requests by customs officers for access of their mobile phones or computers, and even disclosure of their computer or social media passwords. This is permitted under US law because courts have held that customs officers do not need a warrant to engage in a search at the border, and the 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is not violated by such a warrantless search.
The request for disclosure of social media accounts for non-citizens not in US soil during a visa application appears to be an extension of current policy at US borders and airports.
For the US Government, social media accounts yield a treasure trove of personal information — from the identity of friends and family, to the location of the account holder, to the personal activities of the account holder.
There are many potential examples of the value of such personal information for the US Government in visa processes. For instance, in K-1 fiance/fiancee petitions, the history of the relationship of the future spouses can be analyzed. In terms of causes of inadmissibility, the personal drug use of a visa applicant can be also evaluated if the social media account discloses such information.
Consular officers have been directed not to violate or attempt to violate individual privacy settings, not to request user passwords, and not to use social media or assess an individual’s social media presence beyond established Department guidance.
Nevertheless, having the US Government rummaging through the social media accounts of all visa applicants should send a shiver to private individuals who did not expect their social media accounts to be analyzed by US Government entities simply because the person intends to visit the US for business or pleasure, whether it is a trip to Los Angeles for a technology conference, or a visit to Disneyland in Orlando and go shopping in New York.
Donoso & Associates, LLC, is a law firm based in Washington, D.C., and is recognized as a leading immigration law firm with recognized expertise in visas for EB-5 investors, professionals and academics.
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