The US Department of State recently approved new visa application forms that require nearly all applicants to submit the social media usernames they have used in the past five years for screening. MediaNama sent the DoS a list of questions on how it would assess social media accounts, especially private accounts. In reponse, the DoS said, “Consular officers will not request user passwords.” This, however, did not clarify if the consulates would get in touch with the platforms directly for back-end access. Nor did it reveal if private accounts would be judged differently from public ones. It also did not clarify if applicants would be compelled to change their privacy settings to allow consular officers access to other semi-public information (posts, photos, etc, not private messages).
On the question of satirical and anonymous accounts, even those that are critical of the American government, the DoS gave an assurance that applicants would not be judged for their political views. Social media details will be used for ‘identity resolution’. Within this framework, social media information becomes as important as basic identifiers such as date of birth, nationality, national identification document, passport number, etc. However, forgetting to list social media accounts may cause delay in processing, not “serious immigration consequences”, as initial reports had suggested.
From their answers, it is apparent that the DoS is reticent about sharing details of the assessment process. Unlike other visa requirements, this is the only one that potentially reveals the contents of an applicant’s private/public communications. And unlike other parameters, which can be judged objectively (verifying passport number, educational qualification, etc.), communication is a highly subjective territory that leaves room for discrimination and persecution.
Here are the unedited answers:
What will be the criteria for vetting all the applicants? Are there any particular parameters that will be looked at?
Whenever an individual applies for a U.S. visa, a consular officer reviews the facts of the case and determines whether the applicant is eligible for that visa based on U.S. law.
If applicants have private social media accounts, how will the State Department assess the application?
Consular officers will not request user passwords. All visa applications are adjudicated by consular officers on a case-by-case basis in accordance with U.S. law.
Are applicants expected to share details of satirical accounts that they may have created? What if those accounts are critical of the US government?
There are numerous accounts that have evolved into social media institutions. However, they remain anonymous, mostly because of fear of persecution in their own countries and elsewhere. Will their creators also be expected to share those details? [posed as two separate questions; received the same reply]
Failure to provide accurate and truthful responses in a visa application may result in denial of the visa by a consular officer. In the case of an applicant who has used any of the social media platforms listed on the visa application in the preceding five years, the associated social media identifier would be required on the visa application form. Consular officers cannot deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation. The collection of social media identifiers is consistent with this. The Department will collect this information from visa applicants for identity resolution and to determine whether the applicant is eligible for a U.S. visa under U.S. law. Visa ineligibilities are set forth in U.S. law.
If applicants forget their social media account details, especially if they are old accounts or not used at all, how will their visa application be received?
Applicants should take care to complete the application as fully and honestly as possible to avoid any delays in processing.