Big Brother to Review Visa Applicants’ Social Media History?

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Handing over access to your social media account might be the next big move in U.S. immigration law. In a formal notice issued on March 30, 2018, the Department of State advised that it plans to require nearly all visa applicants to the U.S. to submit five years of social media handles for specific platforms identified by the government, with an option for foreigners to voluntarily turn over aliases associated with any other social media network not explicitly required by the government which have been used in the five years prior.

According to the notice published in the Federal Register, the State Department is considering revising its electronic visa registration system to require visa applicants to answer a series of questions aimed at eliciting social media history. The Electronic Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (DS-260)—which is required for nearly all immigrant visa applicants to obtain immigration benefits in the U.S.—is an online application administered by the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. It is used to collect biographical information from individuals seeking legal permanent residency in the U.S.  Consular officials use the data collected in the DS-260 to determine an applicant’s eligibility for a green card at the time of a visa interview.

The Department plans to modify this data collection system by adding a question that lists multiple social media platforms and requires the applicant to provide any identifiers used by the applicant for those platforms during the five years prior to the date of application. In addition to requiring five years of social media pseudonyms, the applicant will need to provide previous telephone numbers, email addresses, international travel history, prior immigration violations and any family history of involvement in terrorist activities. Exemptions to these requirements for diplomatic and official visas will apply. The State Department is reportedly proposing this initiative for identity resolution and vetting purposes in response to the San Bernardino terrorist attack that was carried out on December 2, 2015. The administration anticipates the move will affect nearly 15 million would-be immigrants to the United States.

While the Administration’s plan stops short of requiring passwords or direct access to social media accounts, this latest effort marks the first time that the government will formally require virtually all applicants to come to the U.S. to disclose social media history. The Department’s proposed rule will remain open for public comment until May 29, 2018.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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