Without much warning, the U.S. Department of State has introduced a new set of questions to all Consular Electronic Application forms pertaining to social media presence and usage. The online DS-160 and DS-260 forms, which must be completed by all individuals hoping to apply for a visa from a U.S. embassy or consular post abroad, will now ask applicants to provide identifying usernames or account information for several social media platforms that they use (see below for complete list). The online applications will also ask applicants to list out all email addresses and phone numbers used in the past five years, and to volunteer their username or identifier for any additional online presence, if they choose to.
These questions must be completed by all applicants hoping to work, study, or live permanently in the U.S. and they must be answered honestly and completely, otherwise applicants could face serious immigration consequences, sources say. Any misrepresentation on these forms has historically caused issues during visa interviews.
While we have previously seen this type of request for individuals who become subject to “extreme vetting” or additional background checks (often as part of the elusive “administrative processing”) following their visa interviews, this is the first time we are seeing it on such a large scale or as a blanket policy for applying for a visa. According to authorities, this policy will immediately affect nearly 14.7 million people annually who are hoping to enter the US on many different types of visas.
This new policy immediately raises questions about how we can protect individual privacy and freedom in situations where national security is paramount. The New York Times notes that this new policy could “dissuade visa applicants, who may see it as a psychological barrier to enter the United States.” News outlets and civil rights groups nationwide have begun commenting on the implications of such a policy, which essentially assumes every person hoping to enter the U.S. is a potential threat. Under this assumption, the government can more easily justify violating rights and privacy in a process that already puts individuals under a high level of scrutiny and vulnerability.
The State Department’s Consular Electronic Application forms (DS-160 and DS-260) will now require applicants to list their usernames or accounts for the following social media platforms:
- QZONE (QQ)
- SINA WEIBO
- VKONTAKTE (VK)
In addition to the new social media section, applicants will notice that the forms now ask them to list out email address and phone number histories, and to disclose details about their international travel and deportation status (rather than just U.S. travel and deportation), and answer more security questions about their family members.
According to the Federal Register, the U.S. Department of State will use the collected information for “identity resolution and vetting purposes based on statutory visa eligibility standards.” The new policy itself stems from a previous executive order in which President Trump declared his intent to implement and enforce “extreme vetting” in the immigration process.
While we have not yet seen this new policy play out in application submission or the interview process, we expect it to introduce new challenges for applicants and to add additional nuance to the background and security checks. Applicants now run the risk of misrepresentation if they do not disclose all of their information, as well as the risk of having their social media posts or activity misinterpreted by government officials. This also opens the door to more violations of privacy as it becomes more commonplace to dig into people’s personal lives before letting them enter the country for any purpose or length of time.