USCIS Reviewing Social Media Accounts of Applicants02 May 2016
Representatives from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently revealed to members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that USCIS adjudicators have been “… testing social media review in adjudications.” They further indicated that the agency is reviewing social media as part of pilot programs in order to “… develop standard operating procedures (SOPs), adjudications guidance, and other necessary process governance.”
USCIS Pilots Social Media Websites in Adjudicating Cases
The information was provided by the USCIS during a liaison meeting with AILA. The AILA representative asked the USCIS whether adjudicators review “… social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, blog posts, and dating websites to verify or investigate information provided by applicants in their applications or at interviews.” The USCIS confirmed that the agency has tested the feasibility of using this information in the adjudication process and indicated that there are plans to continue this practice, while taking into account concerns regarding privacy.
Standard Procedures to Follow in Immigration Cases
The USCIS does not yet have SOPs developed regarding the use of social media as part of case review. As mentioned, these pilot programs are being used to develop such guidance for officers, presumably to balance security and integrity issues with privacy concerns. In the meantime, however, the pilot programs are operating under existing U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) directives regarding the use of social media accounts. As stated by the USCIS, “These directives govern the scope and manner under which USCIS may operationally use social media for immigration-related purposes.”
Combatting Negative Information
The USCIS was asked how an applicant would be able to address negative or inconsistent information posted on social media that was considered by the adjudicator. Representatives confirmed that, under existing regulations, applicants and petitioners must be provided notice of such derogatory information and be given the opportunity to address that information.
Social Media Use in Past Investigations
This reveal by the USCIS is hardly surprising or unprecedented. As discussed in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, USCIS Memo on Use of Social Networking Websites (29.Oct.2010), the USCIS has long used social media when investigating suspected fraud and related immigration violations. This is different from the pilot programs discussed here, though, which review social media in standard immigration applications and petitions.
It is important, in general, to be aware of one’s social media presence and the accuracy of such information. In recent years, it has become commonplace to publicly share extensive personal information and pictures. Friends and even the general public may be privy to all manner of information posted on social media accounts. While most details are generally benign, stakeholders should be aware that conflicting or otherwise detrimental information could be viewed by the USCIS and used accordingly.
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