USCIS Memo on Use of Social Networking Websites29 Oct 2010
A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memorandum regarding the importance of social networking sites in fraud detection was recently disclosed. This memo discusses the use of social networking sites by Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) officers in investigating potential abuses of U.S. immigration programs. The memo encourages FDNS officers to monitor these websites and to look for information related to petitioners, applicants, beneficiaries, and others who are suspected of fraudulent immigration activities. MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers are reminded that it is important to be aware of information about themselves that is publicly available on the internet and elsewhere. This should serve as a warning against tendencies toward exaggeration or embellishment that are common on social networking sites. (The FOIA request that first uncovered this May 2008 USCIS memo, is described in our MurthyBlog article, FOIA Request Reveals USCIS Monitoring Social Networking Sites, 21.Oct.2010.)
Social Networking Sites
Most who are computer-literate are at least minimally familiar with some social networking websites. These include Facebook, MySpace, Classmates, and similar sites. The memo notes that social networking sites are designed for large numbers of people to share pictures, details of their lives, and other information with select groups of members. These are referred to as “friends” in the parlance of Facebook. The race to accumulating more of these online “friends” has many users completely open to accepting requests from most anyone for inclusion in their group. Some users post many personal details, pictures, and day-to-day minutia about their activities. If these activities are contrary to claims made in immigration filings, the potential problems can be significant.
Why This is Important
This information is provided to apprise MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers of the potential significance of posting personal details – true or not – on some social networking sites. We emphasize the need for accuracy and discretion, which may be counter-intuitive to the typical use of these sites, where individuals may boast about their successes or exaggerate accounts of their personal lives. Anyone using these sites needs to be aware that, even with various restrictions and controls, the content may not be as private as thought. Avoid misrepresenting information or making claims that could be misunderstood and result in drawing immigration status or eligibility into question.
The memo gives the example of using social networking as a tool in investigating claims of a bona fide marital relationship. FDNS officers are instructed to pursue access to the social networking pages of individuals who are suspected of fraudulent activities. As long-time readers may recall from our October 24, 2008 article, H1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment Signals Changes, FDNS was established in February 2006 to enhance the integrity of the U.S. immigration system. Part of the alleged violations that were listed in the H1B Benefit Fraud and Compliance Assessment included H1B workers being employed to perform duties at locations not listed in the H1B petition or the labor condition application (LCA) filed on their behalf. These social networking websites can be used by the FDNS to determine the accuracy of the data in one’s filing. The Murthy Law Firm understands the need for the USCIS and its component FDNS to protect the integrity of the U.S. immigration system.
Efforts to obtain immigration benefits through fraud are obviously wrong and can lead to removal (deportation) from the United States as well as permanent prohibitions against returning to the U.S. Those who even consider such actions do so at their own peril and, now, are being watched even more closely through their online activities.
Since the public now is on notice that FDNS will be looking into information on social networking websites, it is important that non-citizens in the United States take care to ensure that any information they post (or that is posted about them by others) is accurate and not misleading. Awareness of one’s online persona is important, not only in the immigration context, but also in the employment and personal contexts.
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