US immigration has just implemented another hurdle for prospective immigrants and visitors to the USA to jump. This is in line with the 2017 executive orders issued by President Trump to institute extreme vetting to vigorously screen visa applicants and strengthen K1 Fiance Visa Requirements.
Effective May 31, 2019, the state departments applications used for non-immigrant visas, the DS 160, and used for immigrant visas the DS 260, have been modified and the requirement is that all US immigration applicants need to reveal the social media accounts that they use.
Soon after his inauguration, President Trump issued executive orders tightening how US immigration treats its foreign clients.
Executive orders were issued to ban applicants from so-called terrorist countries, and US immigration was ordered to conduct “extreme vetting” on all cases.
A year after the initial executive order, it was announced that public social media accounts would start being mined for information on applicants.
Soon after that announcement about data mining was made, a few of my fiancee and spouse visa applicants, especially those from Northern Africa, were, after a positive visa interview at the consulate, were told their cases were on Administrative Processing, pending a review of their social media, communications and travel histories. The fiance or spouse, disappointed to be put on hold, was given additional forms to take away and fill-in. These required the applicant to reveal information about his or her social media use, cell phone numbers, travel history and so on.
Many months after submission of this information they finally got their visas.
Apparently now the data miners have finished developing their system to review and vet the information and are ready to roll it out for ALL visa applicants, not only from a select few.
The Department of StateUS immigration forms now have the requirement to include drop-down menus that ask you to identify if you’ve used the following social media platforms and if so, to provide usernames
Ask.fm, Douban, Facebook, Flicker, Google+, Instagram, Linkedin, Myspace,Pinterest, Qzone (QQ), Reddit, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, Tumblr, Twitter, Twoo, Vine, Vkontakte(VK), Youku, Youtube
Expect that the list is a work in progress and will be expanded later.
So far your password is not requested. However asking for passwords has been proposed, and might be required in the future.
The official purpose of this social media scrutiny is to weed out terrorists.
Social media has been viewed as a major forum for terrorist sentiment, recruitment and activity, and this sentiment connectivity is often apparent via social postings.
Common belief, is that if this system had been in place, that the 2015 terrorist event resulting in the death of 14 and wounding of 22 at a San Bernardino, California office holiday party by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik would have been prevented.
Tashfeen Malik had been granted a K1 fiance visa to enter the USA, and on review of her social media presence experts believe that the warning signs were all plainly visible, if only the consular officials had looked for them.
I certainly don’t believe that you or any of my clients could be a potential terrorist. But you still should be aware that the data mining of your social media presence will also affect non-terrorists.
I expect that the data miners will also be looking for any signs of inconsistency between the story told in applying for the visa compared to the approved purpose of the visa.
For example a person who is planning to come on a visitor visa who mentions on social media his or her plans to work in the USA while visiting, or reveals the goal of never returning to home country.
Or a sponsor of a spouse visa whose postings showing his current social life does not reflect that of a married person.
Or the applicant for a green card who’s postings show involvement in criminal activity.
US immigration will be on the lookout for whatever they can find. You don’t have to fall in to the above black and white categories to run into trouble. Remember a consular officer is better off to deny an honest couple than to approve a fraudulent couple. Approval of a fraudulent case will hurt his reputation. Denial of an honest case, won’t affect his reputation and while the honest couple is inconvenienced, they can always reapply and eventually get their visa.
What higher hurdles are next?
At the moment they’re just asking what social media platforms you use and what name you use while on it. This information allows them to view the same information that is available to the public.
Proposals for the future are to require to reveal all cell phone numbers you’ve used, and all email addresses. Eventually you might be required to provide passwords to all your accounts. Once that happens not only your public presence would be inspected but your private as well.
Another troubling proposal that has been tabled will require all applicants for visas, and even foreign travelers at US ports of entry to turn over their cell phones and laptops for immediate and direct inspection of their communication and posting history. Imagine how slow the lines at the airport will move.
What can you do to protect yourself?
1. Make an inventory of the social media accounts you use and prepare an accurate list to provide to immigration when asked.
2. Bring each account up-to-date with your current situation so that is consistent with the immigration benefit you are applying for.
If you’re applying for a fiancee or spouse visa, update your relationship status, post engagement or wedding announcements, forecast your plans for honeymoon and a happy life together in the USA.
If applying for a visitor or student visa post your interests for what you will see and do in the USA.
Make sure all postings are consistent with what you are allowed to do based upon the visa you hope to get.
3. Clean house. If previously you posted items that could be found objectionable or controversial or paints you in a different light then you want to be seen today, take them down.
By Fred Wahl