Applying for Immigration Benefits? Your Social Media Accounts Could Be in the Spotlight

The Department of Homeland Security will soon be collecting social media information from approximately 33 million immigrants annually who apply for permission to enter or stay in the United States as well as those applying to become U.S. citizens. Questions about social media accounts and user names will be added to applications and USCIS forms in the coming weeks.

Why the Change?

DHS attributes the change to President Trump’s Executive Order 13780, which sought to improve security by creating additional scrutiny for people who want to enter the United States. People familiar with Trump’s “heavy vetting” rhetoric may understand where this change is coming from.

“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 on September 4.

In the past, DHS officials have used publicly available social media information to determine an applicant’s eligibility, but only now have they begun to consider forcing applicants to give up that information.

Which Sites Are of Interest?

DHS said they picked the social media websites of interest based on their global presence. These include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, Reddit, Tumbler, Pinterest and ten others.

Another DHS notice published in the Federal Register said immigrants will be made to include their current and past phone numbers and email addresses as well as other biographical data points.

Which Forms Will Be Impacted?

For immigration forms, the policy change will affect:

  • Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document
  • Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal
  • Form I-590, Registration for Classification as Refugee

The change will also impact the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, Form I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record, and the Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS).

While the policy change raises privacy concerns for immigrants, DHS asserts that it will only review the information that is publicly available. By setting social media accounts to “private”, immigrants can minimize the amount of information available to DHS.