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United States – New Screening of Social Media Accounts by State Department

United States – New Screening of Social Media Accounts

This report covers the State Department’s collecting additional information relating to the personal social media presence of nearly all U.S. immigrant and nonimmigrant visas applicants.

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As part of the visa application process, nearly all U.S. immigrant and nonimmigrant visas applicants will be required to provide their social media user-names, prior email addresses, and phone numbers held over the last five years.1

In an effort to vet applicants seeking entry into the U.S. and identify potential security threats, the State Department is collecting additional information relating to individuals’ personal social media presence.  (For related coverage, see GMS Flash Alert 2018-062, April 10, 2018.)

WHY THIS MATTERS

The new screening question about social media use would apply to virtually all applicants for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, with the exception of certain diplomatic and official visa types.  According to some reports, this will impact approximately 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million nonimmigrant visa applicants.2

Affected categories of travelers and migrants should be made aware of the new requirement concerning social media details so that they may be prepared for the questions during their consular interviews and comply accordingly.

Background

As reported in our prior newsletter, the Department of State published a notice in the Federal Register in March 2018, proposing to add questions for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants about social media platforms they have used in the past five years.  The public had 60 days to comment on the proposed change.

Various groups and individuals weighed in during this comment period.  Despite free speech concerns raised by privacy and civil liberties advocates, the State Department is now proceeding with collecting and vetting social media accounts, phone numbers, and email addresses, used over the past five years.

In the past, the State Department only requested such email, phone number, and social media history where the individual was deemed to require further scrutiny.  It was also addressed to those who had traveled to regions with a high degree of terrorist activity.

Altered Forms and New Questions about Social Media Use

The question about social media appears in the respective immigrant (DS-260) and non-immigrant (DS-160) applications3 as follows:

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KPMG NOTE

Whether applying for a tourist visa, a work visa, or an immigrant visa, U.S. visa applicants should be mindful that consular officers are studying their social media presence in rendering their decisions.  Applicants’ social media identifiers will be part of the background check process and further examined against watch lists generated by the U.S. government. 

For now, the State Department is only requesting social media identifiers and not passwords to these accounts.  Thus, the provided access to social media account handles should only enable the government to access data that is publicly shared.  That being said, the information collected and vetted may change in the future.

If any information provided is incomplete, visa issuance may take longer due to additional background checks.  Further, if the adjudicating officer determines that a visa applicant has misrepresented himself/herself, this could result in a finding of fraud and therefore result in inadmissibility.

This change may serve as a constructive reminder for employees to adhere to their employer’s social media policies (where applicable). 

FOOTNOTES

1  See the June 4 Department of State announcement (“Collection of Social Media Identifiers from U.S. Visa Applicants“) on this policy.

2  For example, see the Associated Press (AP) online report “U.S. now seeking social media details from all visa applicants,” (June 1, 2019). Please note that this is a third-party (non-governmental, non-KPMG) link. Provision of this link does not represent an endorsement of the underlying website by KPMG.

3  See “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) – Apply for a Nonimmigrant Visa” on the Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center web page.

* Please note that KPMG LLP (U.S.) does not provide any immigration services.  However, KPMG Law LLP in Canada can assist clients with U.S. immigration matters.   

 

The information contained in this newsletter was submitted by the KPMG International member firm in Canada.

© 2019 KPMG LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss entity. All rights reserved.

Flash Alert is an Global Mobility Services publication of KPMG LLPs Washington National Tax practice. The KPMG logo and name are trademarks of KPMG International. KPMG International is a Swiss cooperative that serves as a coordinating entity for a network of independent member firms. KPMG International provides no audit or other client services. Such services are provided solely by member firms in their respective geographic areas. KPMG International and its member firms are legally distinct and separate entities. They are not and nothing contained herein shall be construed to place these entities in the relationship of parents, subsidiaries, agents, partners, or joint venturers. No member firm has any authority (actual, apparent, implied or otherwise) to obligate or bind KPMG International or any member firm in any manner whatsoever. The information contained in herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.

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