The U.S. State Department added fields to all U.S. visa applications that will require applicants to disclose information regarding social media accounts used in the past five years, as well as telephone numbers, email address, international travel and deportation status.
The new policy, effective May 31st, asks applicants to include their profile handles on popular US-based social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, as well as international platforms, such as Chinese platforms Douban, QQ and Sina Weibo.
Free Speech Concerns
Monitoring social media accounts could provide extensive insight into a visa applicants’ past, including photos, places of travel, birthdates, and other life milestones. But the American Civil Liberties Union worries the increased scrutiny could deter visa applicants and could inadvertently target those who use free speech to protest the U.S. government or its actions.
“This is a dangerous and problematic proposal, which does nothing to protect security concerns but raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants,” Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, told the New York Times. “Research shows that this kind of monitoring has chilling effects, meaning that people are less likely to speak freely and connect with each other in online communities that are now essential to modern life.”
The new requirements apply to both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas – meaning those who are only traveling to the U.S. for work, study, or travel will be subject to the same level of scrutiny as those hoping to live in the U.S. long-term. While it is unclear how the State Department will use the information, it is important that visa applicants are aware that their online presence will be monitored. Voice of America reports that companies in China are advising international students and other clients to avoid using sensitive phrases such as “maternity hotel,” “green card,” “guns,” and “give birth to babies in the U.S.”
What You Can Do
FordMurray attorneys are monitoring the new requirements and will advise clients as we know more. We urge visa applicants to always be forthright and honest in their applications – in this case, omitting information on the applications can lead to automatic denial of the visa application. While we know that every additional hurdle adds an element of stress and uncertainty, our experienced counsel is ready to advise and advocate for our clients in the immigration process.