On May 23rd, the Office of Management and Budget approved a new rule for US visa applicants, requiring in some cases additional biographical information. Among the new questions to be asked of visa applicants is their social media handles going back the past five years. There is some uncertainty whether this also applies to H1B visa applicants, but aspiring foreign workers may want to prepare to divulge their Facebook, Twitter and other social media identities, or face delays or even denial of their petition.
What are the New Questions Being Asked?
The questions are part of a new form being used now at consulates worldwide for any US visa. This is a supplemental form DS-5535 to cover these specific areas. Here is a quick summary of information that can now be requested:
- All prior passport numbers, even for expired passports and those from other countries other than your home country
- Names of all spouses, former spouses and domestic partners
- Five years of social media handles, content, posts and photos
- Email addresses and phone numbers for the past five years
- 15 years of biographical information (addresses, work history and travel, including source of funding for travel)
- Names and dates of birth of all siblings and children
To summarize: they can ask you almost anything…
According to Rueters, “Officials will request the additional information when they determine “that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”
The new rules and questions were granted emergency approval to implement right away, but are only in place for six months. Formal approval would extend that time period to three years, but for now all visa applicants have to expect to be able to provide that information. It is voluntary unless specifically requested by the consular officer reviewing your application, but places all the discretion in the hands of the reviewing officer, so there is no way to know if you will be asked these questions.
Does This Apply to H1B Visa Applicants?
At first, the new questions seem to primarily apply to visitors to the US. Naturally the open question is whether these new questions apply to H1B visa petitions. The supplemental questionnaire does not distinguish or list which types of visas will be subject to additional scrutiny.
For now, H1B applicants should assume the answer is yes, since most H1B petitions are reviewed by the consulate in your home country along with the in-person interview. This rule gives the officer the option of bringing up those questions in the interview. So, this would also apply to any H1B visa petitions that are under review currently this season.
Honesty is Essential if Asked to Provide the Supplemental Information
As with any visa-related document, accuracy is essential. Even simple mistakes or a poor memory of your Twitter handle five years ago could be grounds for denial. Underscoring the need for honesty is the fact that border control and immigration officers can require you to give your password to your phone or other electronic devices, and can quickly scan for any inconsistencies.
While some applicants for non-immigrant work visas may see the new rules as intrusive or unnecessary, they should note that the Trump administration is serious about taking steps to limit any security threats. They are really not that interested in whether you think it is fair to give up your social media privacy, as that is now the price you pay to enter the US to work, travel or live.
This new rule was fast-tracked, and was approved despite vocal opposition. In short, if you are a current H1B visa applicant you should begin to assemble the information requested on Form DS-5535. With a Google search you may find a screenshot or PDF of the form, but as of now it is not available on US government sites.
- June 11th, 2017