Social Media Used by US Immigration Officers Checking US Visa applications

by admin on November 25, 2010

Guest blogger: Jennifer L. Patin

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently encouraged US immigration officers to use social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to check applicants hoping to obtain US visas.  This idea is not surprising or novel. According to an article on, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued multiple government agencies at the end of 2009 for “refusing to release information about how they are using social networks in surveillance and investigations.”  The ‘Social Networking Sites and Their Importance to FDNS’ memorandum, issued this year, gives the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate the green light to use unsubstantiated information for or against US visa applicants.

The self-image one selects for himself/herself on social networking sites, such as Facebook, along with correspondence in which he/she engages, may have no basis in reality or be impossible to prove. Using social media to assess applicants allows US immigration officials to impart subjective opinions on subjective materials. In order to give weight to the material found on social networking sites, officers would have to 1) assume it to be true and accurate; and 2) assume that their interpretation of the material does not contradict the true intentions of the source. There is no way to prove either of these assumptions. There is also no way to prove that bias will not find its way into the investigations of FDNS or the decisions of USCIS now that social media has been introduced as a tool for government agencies.

The memorandum opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities that work mainly against US visa applicants. It discourages applicants to take part in social media because of the risks it presents to their visa and immigration status; which is particularly burdensome considering that social media now connects people worldwide. It also opens the door for government agencies to consider other ways of obtaining information about applicants that can be construed as exceedingly intrusive or clandestine. Additionally, it sets a precedent for USCIS to use unverifiable information to evaluate US visa applicants.

FDNS and other government agencies have used the information posted on social networking sites in the past and will undoubtedly continue to do so, despite the unreliability of the information. The USCIS memorandum will most likely increase this practice; therefore, it is important for US visa-seekers to be diligent about the true information they make available on social networking sites and the false information they post for whatever reasons. An applicant risks being permanently banned from entering the United States and/or applying to enter if fraud is committed.

Social media is convenient, fun, current, and in some cases, the only way that people can or are willing to stay in touch. That being said, those using social media are responsible for filtering their public content as their life situations deem necessary and practicing tremendous caution when allowing others to access their personal information. Obtaining a US visa is a life-changing opportunity. It would be an absolute shame to compromise it for the desire to collect cyber-friends or make erroneous or reckless online comments. This is the world we live in, and all of us must remember that social media does not form an impenetrable bubble around us.

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