Vetting Procedure for U.S. Visa Applicants to Include Social Media Sites

On May 24, 2017, the Department of State started using a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants that will ask for information on their social media.  Only certain applicants that pose a “threat profile” are impacted.  What remains uncertain is what applicants or application profiles will trigger the enhanced screening.  The DOS states that consular officers may opt for enhanced measures to “resolve an applicant’s identity” or to “vet for terrorism or other national security related visa ineligibilities” when the officer “determines that the circumstances of a visa applicant, a review of the visa application, or responses in a visa interview indicate a need for greater scrutiny.”

The questionnaire will request social media platforms, handles, and email addresses used during the last five years, and biographical data from the last fifteen years.  The proposed screening protocols are significant because they are designed to mine considerably more data than current protocols.  Some of the information is already collected on visa applications, but for shorter periods.

Among the data the DOS desires to collect is:

  • Travel history during the last fifteen y ears, including source of funding for travel;
  • Employment history during the last fifteen years;
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years;
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
  • Names and dates of births for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners; and
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years.

These new vetting measures were approved by the Office of Management and Budget in response to President Donald Trump’s plan to strengthen national security.

Applicants will be asked to provide the additional information in cases where the State Department determines a need to confirm the applicant’s identity, or to conduct a more rigorous vetting in connection with national security issues that could make the applicant ineligible for a visa.

The questionnaire is voluntary and failure to provide information will not mean that an application will be denied, but it may delay the visa application process.

The inclusion of social media in the vetting process comes amidst the rulings of the Fourth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals refusing to reinstate President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.