Immigrants applying for certain benefits may soon be required to provide links to their social media activity as part of the application process.
The Department of Homeland Security wants to be able to review information posted on social media over the last five years by immigrants who apply for nine types of benefits — including U.S. citizenship through naturalization, asylum and changes on permanent residence through marriage — according to a notice published in the Federal Register.
“U.S. Government departments and agencies involved in screening and vetting, to include DHS, identified the collection of social media user identifications (also known as usernames, identifiers, or ‘handles’) and associated publicly available social media platforms used by the applicant during the past five years, as important for identity verification, immigration and national security vetting,” states the DHS notice published last week.
“For DHS, these data elements will be added to certain immigration benefit request or traveler forms where the information was not already collected,” it adds.
Attributing the change to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13780, which seeks to improve U.S. security by tightening the scrutiny of foreign nationals who want to enter the United States, DHS said it will accept public comment on the proposal until Nov. 4.
If approved, DHS will add questions about social networks to several forms used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency.
The proposed changes are similar to the State Department’s plan to ask foreign citizens applying for immigrant and non-immigrant visas questions about the social media accounts they have used in the past five years, in an effort to improve the screening processes.
“It is clear that an open-ended inquiry into ‘online presence’ would give DHS a window into applicants’ private lives,” a coalition of 28 civil rights and technology groups wrote in a letter in August in opposition to the proposal. “Scrutiny of their sensitive or controversial online profiles would lead many visa-waiver applicants to self-censor or delete their accounts, with consequences for personal, business, and travel-related activity.”
The 19 social media networks of interest to USCIS and CBP include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, Reddit, Tumbler and Pinterest.
“The platforms selected represent those which are among the most popular on a global basis,” the DHS announcement noted.
DHS officials already use some information publicly available on social media to determine an applicants’ eligibility for an immigration benefit, but until now the agency had not asked immigrants directly for their social media information in the application process.
The DHS notice said that if applicants do not include their social media information on the immigration forms, their requests would not be denied or rejected based solely on the lack of information.
“USCIS will continue to adjudicate a form where social media information is not answered, but failure to provide the requested data may either delay or make it impossible for USCIS to determine an individual’s eligibility for the requested benefit,” it noted.
The new information about social media use would be requested in the following nine immigration forms:
The proposed changes for CBP forms would affect the following documents:
The proposal would take effect only after DHS receives federal approval and officially publishes all the forms’ new versions.
Another DHS notice published last week in the Federal Register said immigrants will be required to include their current and past phone numbers and email addresses as well as other biographical data.
Daniel Shoer Roth is a journalist covering immigration law who does not offer legal advice or individual assistance to applicants. Follow him on Twitter @DanielShoerRoth. The contents of this story do not constitute legal advice.
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