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U.S. Department of State Imposes Additional Vetting for Visa Applicants Heading to the United States

June 12, 2019

The U.S. Department of State has added a new social media question to its immigrant and nonimmigrant visa application forms.

Effective June 1, applicants filling out Forms DS-160 and DS-260 must provide the government with a list of all phone numbers, email addresses, international travel and deportation statuses from the last five years, as well as to the usernames for each social media platform (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) they have used in that time frame.

The State Department is implementing this policy, which is expected to affect 15 million visa applicants annually, in accordance with a memorandum issued by President Trump in March 2017 requesting heightened vetting and screening for immigration. Prior to this change, foreign nationals were not required to provide their social media history unless they were deemed to be a heightened security concern. Now, almost all nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants (only certain diplomatic and official visas are exempt) will be subject to this screening.

This information will provide the State Department with all the personal data typically shared on social media, from photos to dates and locations of the applicants' whereabouts. The American Immigration Lawyers Association and various privacy, civil and immigrant's rights organizations joined in opposition of the new question when it was first proposed, citing concerns with First Amendment and privacy rights.

While this update only applies to new visa applications, it is important to keep in mind that visa applicants are continually screened to ensure eligibility to travel to the United States is maintained. Applicants who do not use social media have the option to state so. However, if consular officers find that an applicant has not provided accurate and truthful responses, the application may be denied. For this reason, corporate transfers to the United States should be made aware of these updated social media and vetting requirements.

To avoid delays, we recommend all visa applicants gather their contact and social media information from the last five years before beginning a DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application. We also ask that companies intending to select foreign nationals for transfer to the United States let their candidates know of this change before beginning preparation on Form DS-160 or Form DS-260.

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