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Social Media Vetting

Friday, June 9, 2017

On May 23, 2017 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved a supplemental questionnaire, Form DS-5535 "Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants," to evaluate visa applications who have been flagged for further review by consular offiers at visa-adjudicating posts worldwide.  The OMB granted emergency approval of the new questionnaire for a temporary period of 6 months (rather than the usual 3 years), with an initial expiration date of November 30, 2017, and possibly longer if renewed through subsequent law or policy.  The initial notice was published in the Federal Register on May 4, 2017.  

According to the U.S. Department of State (“DOS”), if a consular officer determines that the circumstances of a visa application, a review of the visa application, or responses in a visa interview indicate a need for greater scrutiny, consular officers will issue this form that asks additional questions to resolve an applicant’s identity, or to vet for terrorism or other national security related visa ineligibilities. Some of the additional information requested are as follows: 

Form DS-5535 asks for the following details, some of which visa applications may have already provided on other forms, though for shorter periods of time.  
  • Travel history during the past fifteen (15) years, including source of funding for travel.
  • Address history during the past fifteen (15) years.
  • Employment history during the past fifteen (15) 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.
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the past five (5) years.
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the past five (5) years.
Regarding travel history, applicants may be requested to provide details of their international or domestic (within their country of nationality) travel, if it appears to the consular officer that the applicant has been in an area while the area was under the operational control of a terrorist organization as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B)(vi) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi).  Applicants may be asked to recount or explain the details of their travel, and when possible, provide supporting documentation. 
The DOS estimates that this will affect 0.5 percent of U.S. visa applications worldwide, or roughly 65,000 people annually who fit an undisclosed threat profile. In its proposal, DOS provided that collecting this information implements the President’s directive, in the Memorandum for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security of March 6, 2017, to implement additional protocols and procedures focused on “ensur[ing] 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." 
Although implementation details have not been formally published or announced by the DOS, based on current information made available in DOS Cables and the Federal Register, the form has been distributed through official channels to consular posts worldwide. Currently, the supplemental form may be sent electronically to the visa applicant before or after the visa interview, or be presented orally or in writing at the time of the interview.  While the new questions are voluntary, failure to provide the information may result in the delay or denial of the visa application. According to the DOS, consular officers are directed not to engage or interact with individuals on or through social media, not to violate individual privacy settings, and not to use social media or assess an individual's social media presence beyond established Department guidance. Consular officers will not request user passwords and will not attempt to subvert privacy control the applicants may have implemented on social media platforms.  

Visa applicants are advised that completion of the new Form DS-5535 may be requested at any time before, during or after the visa interview. If completion of the supplemental form is requested, visa applicants should expect increased delays in visa processing and international travel due to additional screening and administrative processing of these applications.   
We will continue to monitor the roll-out and implementation of the new supplemental form closely and provide updates as they become available.

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