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New DS-160 Form Seeks Social Media Information, Affecting Millions of Visa Applicants

The DS-160 (online nonimmigrant visa application form) is for temporary travel to the U.S.  Form DS-160 is submitted electronically to the Department of State website via the internet. Consular officers use the information entered on the DS-160 to process the Visa application, and combined with a personal interview, determine an applicant’s eligibility for a non-immigrant visa.

The following documents are required to complete your DS-160:

  • Passport
  • Travel itinerary, if you have already made travel arrangements.
  • Dates of your last five visits or trips to the United States, if you have previously travelled to the United States. You may also be asked for your international travel history for the past five years.
  • Résumé or Curriculum Vitae – You may be required to provide information about your current and previous education and work history.
  • Other Information – Some applicants, depending on the intended purpose of travel, will be asked to provide additional information when completing the DS-160.

Certain applicants will need to have additional information and documents handy while completing the DS-160 example Students and Exchange Visitors, Petition-based Temporary Workers, etc.

As of June 1, 2019, with the introduction of a new DS-160 Form, the following information will be collected from all Visa Applicants –

Social media platforms with user names (not passwords);

  • Phone numbers;
  • Email addresses;
  • International travel and deportation status; and
  • Information on whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.

The DS-160 Form requires that applicants list any of the above information that they have used in the five years preceding their application.The form contains a list of approximately 20 social media accounts including the very popular Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube. Failure to disclose might be construed as a misrepresentation and could, according to a State Department official, lead to serious consequences.The rule to expand social media history data collection to all immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants was first published by the State Department in April 2018. It was an outcome of President Donald Trump’s desire to put in place a policy of “extreme vetting” of foreigners entering the country, a theme articulated during his campaign and via executive orders in 2017.

“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” the State Department said in a statement. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”

Earlier, social media information was asked of only certain individuals whose applications required further review. Now the information is required as part of all immigrant (form DS-260) and non-immigrant (form DS-160) online visa applications.

Impact of this change – The change is likely to cause delays.The new policy will affect roughly 15 million US visa applicants around the world every year. More than a million non-immigrant and immigrant US visas are given to Indians every year. Government officials and diplomats are exempt from providing the additional information. Practically speaking, the screening of social media accounts from approximately 15 million foreign nationals is likely to cause major delays in visa processing.

Besides longer wait times, foreign nationals may want to assume that their social media accounts will be reviewed by consular officers. They may want to be prepared to discuss the content of their social media posts when they appear for their visa interviews.Social media is an intricate map of its users’ contacts, associations, habits and preferences. Full information on accounts will give the US government access to a visa applicant’s pictures, locations, birthdays, anniversaries, friendships, relationships, and a whole trove of personal data that is commonly shared on social media, but which many may not like to share with agencies of state.Critics say the sweeping surveillance potential of the new regulations could discourage a wide range of visa applicants.

 

Blog prepared by: –

Anurag Soni,

Sanskruti Panse,

Legal associates, Immigration Department at SKJ Juris, an Immigration Support Services Company.

 

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