State Department Publishes Notice in Federal Register Proposing to Expand Social Media Screening of Visa Applicants

USDepartmentOfState

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On May 4, 2017, the U.S. Department of State published a notice in the Federal Register requesting emergency approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to expand the collection of information though social media screening of some visa applicants by requiring them to divulge their social media “handles” such as identifiers and platforms from the past five years. If approved, the rule takes effect May 18, 2017.

According to the “Notice of Information Collection Under OMB Emergency Review: Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants” published by the State Department, the new social media screening rule would apply to approximately 65,000 visa applicants every year – about 0.5% of the total number of applicants – who are judged to warrant extra vetting. Public comments must be received by May 18, 2017.

The request for social media handles is new for the State Department, although such data is collected on a voluntary basis by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for some individuals already. The State Department proposes requesting the following information – if not already included on applications – to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities:

  • Travel history during the last fifteen years, including source of funding for travel;
  • Address history during the last fifteen years;
  • Employment history during the last fifteen years;
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
  • Name and dates of birth for all children;
  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years; and
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years.

Failure to provide requested information will not necessarily result in visa denial if the applicant has a credible explanation why he or she cannot answer a question or provide requested documentation. The collection of social media platforms and identifiers will not be used to deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation.

Consular officers will not request user passwords and will not attempt to subvert any privacy controls the applicants may have implemented on social media platforms, and are directed not to engage or interact with individuals on or through social media, not violate or attempt to violate individual privacy settings, and not to use social media beyond established State Department guidance.

This information collection implements the directive of President Donald Trump in the ‘Memorandum for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security’ of March 6, 2017, to ensure “the proper collection of all information necessary to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or deportability, or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits.”

ESR and Fama to Present Webinar on Social Media Background Checks

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), a global background check provider, will host a live webinar entitled “Top 5 Best Practices for Social Media Background Checks” presented by Ben Mones, CEO and Founder of leading social media screening provider Fama, on Thursday, May 18, 2017, from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM PDT. To register, visit https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3265314621121472770.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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