Government Wants to Review Visa Applicants’ Social Media Accounts

If there is one area of law and policy that the Trump Administration has remained consistent about since the Mr. Trump took office, it is the idea of “extreme vetting” of visa applicants and immigrants to the United States. Our office has written about this concept in the past: questioning the meaning of the term “extreme vetting,” letting clients know about the use of lengthy questionnaires for some nonimmigrant visa applicants, warning of potential headaches at the airport where customs officers may search electronic devices, and acknowledging the establishment of the “Extreme Vetting Center.” In case you had not heard, the Trump Administration would really like to vet people before they enter the U.S. – extremely.

The latest vetting policy introduced by the administration, and potentially the most concrete example of extreme vetting set forth thus far, is the Department of State’s potential revision to the DS-160 and DS-260 applications used for both nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants. The Department of State has issued of Notice of Proposed Information Collection, wherein these two applications would be revised to include questions regarding applicants’ social media use. One question lists multiple social media platforms and requires the applicant to provide any identifiers used by applicants for those platforms during the five years preceding the date of application.  Other questions include five years of previously used telephone numbers and e-mail addresses.

The Notice does not say specifically what the Department of State would be looking for in this data collection, but it is much more expansive than the existing application. Furthermore, in adding such questions to both the DS-160 and DS-260, these questions would be asked of nearly 14 million people each year who apply for visas. This proposal has not yet gone into effect, but would not only increase the length of the application, but also raises privacy and free speech concerns. Would-be applicants may fear that their content could be misconstrued by an officer or interpreted in a negative light. As usual with this Administration, we will continue to monitor how this policy plays out if and when it goes into effect.

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