Can Social Media Impact My U.S. Immigration?

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Should a person’s social media data lock them out of the U.S. immigration process ?

Is the U.S. Government Really Going to Collect Immigrants’ Social Media Data?

In recent news, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has received the green light from President Trump to move forward with a new policy. Specifically, the collecting of the social media handles of visa applicants dating back five years.  For further information see Buzzfeed’s full article here.

Part of this change in process will include a new new questionnaire form. The implementation date is scheduled for October 18, 2017.  The policy change is supposed to help the government determine whether immigrants qualify for certain immigration benefits.  From a fiscal viewpoint, it makes sense that government would want to verify the assets of applicants in order to prioritize benefits for those who truly need it.

However, Opponents to this new policy quickly point out that pilot programs that tested out the practice of examining social media accounts of immigrant applicants proved unsuccessful.  In fact, determining that an applicant did not qualify for immigrant benefits came from sources unrelated to social media.

What are Some of the Concerns due to this Social Media Data Gathering?

Discrimination could become an issue. Depending on the type of social media gathered from an applicant’s social media data, government agents could be screening an applicant’s based on religious and political views. Their screening based on one-off comments and pictures shared.  Government’s ability to ask applicants about their religious and political views is a longstanding tradition.

For example, a person in the past simply needed to state whether or not they supported a Communist regime.  However,  an applicant for a student-visa may face discriminatory scrutiny for his Facebook post critiquing his own government. This in turn resulting in problems for their application.

Consider a tech worker raised in a Muslim family, revealed in pictures with her father and mother. What if she did not share or practice her family’s faith, but due to her family’s religion she faced a harder review process?

These merely are examples of the questions and concerns of collecting social media data of immigrant applicants. It is without a doubt not all government agents reviewing this data will receive training and education in all the nuances of religions and cultures around the world. Therefore, personal biases could seep into the decision-making process.

Social media can be unreliable information and should not be used against a person immigrating to the U.S.

Other Attorneys’ Comments

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, assistant professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law raises a point on the reliability of social media. How many times have you seen a post from someone that’s not entirely representative or accurate of that person? Mr. Hernández states, “The fact that information gleaned from Facebook or Instagram or other social media networks might not be reliable doesn’t mean that it will preclude DHS from using it as a basis for excluding people from the United States.”

Adam Schwartz, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, points out that non-immigrants (U.S. citizens) may also be impacted. They may self-censor their social media posts and interactions. Why?  The fear of those acts being evidence against their immigrant loved ones.

Do You or Your Loved One Have Questions?

If you or a loved one have any questions about visa applications, do not hesitate to contact our firm for an initial consultation.  We can also discuss with you about what happens what a visa application is denied.  There are often options to overcome a visa denial.  However, certain other ineligibilities are permanent; this means you will always be denied due to some aspect of U.S. law.  Still, there are special circumstances in which applicants could apply for a waiver.

Adam R. Chang practices immigration law.  In the past, Adam worked with skilled immigrant professionals from across the country, including many Iraqi refugees, and helped them find work in their professional fields through resume development and job interview training.  When in law school, Adam volunteered to help green card holders apply for citizenship.  In his career, Adam has assisted many clients with employment-based immigration cases, including National Interest Waiver petitions.

DISCLAIMER: This post contains comments and opinions of potential impacts of policy changes and news items.  It does not constitute as legal advice to any particular person in any respect.  If the reader feels they have need of specific advice based on the information contained in this post, then they should seek the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

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