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Use of Social media in assessing Immigration applicants

Earlier this year, thousands of people were surprised and even shocked at the announcement of a  memorandum  which gave  the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate the green light to use unsubstantiated information obtained from ‘Social Networking Sites’ to make an evaluation of applicants for  US visa.

While it may sound like a good idea, to check on the social status and private affairs of an individual on a social networking site, in order to get a different dimension of the person’s private life. The question looming large, is how much of that information is true? 

A recent article on reported that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), had sued several government agencies, who had refused to release information regarding how they were using the information gained from social networks through their surveillance of these networks. While it is a known fact by now that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) body has in recent times  encouraged the surveillance of social networking websites, such as Face book and Twitter, to check on applicant for US Visas, by its officers, people are raising questions on the authenticity of such a method.

While the Immigration officials might think this to be a great idea, the memorandum raises a lot of issue s that might be of worry for someone applying for a US Visa. One direct effect of such news would mean that such applicants have to be extra careful of what they post on such sites, which actually takes away the whole fun of interacting with friends and family. This in turn discourages them from communicating with their loved ones, since they perceive each of their online activities to be under scrutiny. Moreover one cannot be sure about how a casual remark or a particular post might be constructed by an immigration officer who is taking a keen interest in a particular person’s profile.

Some highlights or repercussions of the move-

–          It opens a door for government agencies to consider ways of obtaining information about applicants, other than the legal repercussions.

–           How this information is construed is a big question mark, especially as there is a lot of scope of being misunderstood.

–          This might set a precedent for USCIS about how it would access unverifiable information to evaluate US visa applicants, in the future also, resulting on regulated behavior on Social networking websites.

–          Using the social media to access information about  applicants for US immigration, might be a rather one dimensional way of assessing information that is highly subjective and such opinions regarding the same, also tend to be subjective rather than the impersonal tone necessary perhaps for an immigration official.

–          There no way, it can be proved that there will be no bias on the part of such officials when they make a decision based on a social networking site. Or that this will in no way not influence the investigations of FDNS or the decisions of USCIS regarding particular US Visa proceedings.



One of the biggest implications of such assessments is that Immigration officials would have to understand that all information provided on such networks is true which may not be the case at all. This actually leads us to the larger and more important point that someone with a wrong intention can actually manipulate the Immigration officers to believe that they have a clean record, while that may actually be a doctored profile put up to actually fool such surveillance!

The USCIS memorandum has in a way given certification to the practice of surveillance of Social media by government agencies. In all probabilities, this will make social surveillance and much more rampant and widely used. It will have the affect of people becoming more conscious of what they post online and on social Networking sites.

Probably one of the good fallouts of this move could be that, youngsters who are also applicants for the US visa will be more careful about what they post online and much of it would e monitored by their guardians. This would in turn lead to better security for minors in the long run, who are now prone to attack from virtual crime.

Under the circumstances, the only piece of advice, that would be of any use for those who have applied for US visa is that be very careful what you post online & on Social media networks, as you might be very easily traceable.

One must also be very careful about who one is befriending online. A bit of cautiousness in what you post and how you react with friends & family is desired and in fact could go a long way in protecting you from unnecessary hassle.

If obtaining a US Visa is of great importance to you, then make sure you conduct yourself in such a way online that there is nothing one might pitch as a case against providing you with a US Visa.

The best advice of course would be that stay away from posting false information on Social networking websites, stay honest and post things that do not go against that image. Avoid befriending people you do not know and you are smart you can use the Social media in fact to build up an image that the Immigration officers would actually like, making it easier for you to gain a US visa! If you are not very careful you might permanently forego the chance of obtaining a US visa.


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Shah Peerally is an attorney licensed in California practicing immigration law and debt settlement. He has featured as an expert legal analyst for many TV networks such as NDTV, Times Now and Sitarree TV. Articles about Shah Peerally and his work have appeared on newspapers such as San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune, US Fiji Times, Mauritius Le Quotidien, Movers & Shakers and other prominent international newspapers. His work has been commended by Congress women Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee. He has a weekly radio show on KLOK 1170AM and frequently participates in legal clinics in churches, temples and mosques. His law group, Shah Peerally Law Group, has represented clients all over the United States constantly dealing with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Custom Enforcement(ICE) and CBP (Customs Border Patrol (CBP) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This department was formerly known as the Immigration and Nationality Services (INS).