In response to a Trump administration Executive Order, the Department of State published notices on March 30, 2018, in the Federal Register soliciting public comment on requiring visa applicants to provide any identifiers used by applicants on certain listed social media platforms during the five years preceding the date of the application. On May 31, 2019, the Department of State announced that it had updated its visa application forms to request social media identifiers, noting that the collection of this information from visa applicants will “strengthen [our] process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.” The application forms include platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. The Department of State published FAQs providing more information to the public soon after.
In 2019, two documentary-film organizations filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, DC challenging the lawfulness of the new policy. When President Biden revoked the Executive Order which prompted the social media disclosure requirement in 2021, some expected the Department of State to eliminate the questions from the visa application forms after concluding its policy review. Specifically, the President directed “a review of the current use of social media identifiers in the screening and vetting process, including an assessment of whether this use has meaningfully improved screening and vetting, and recommendations in light of this assessment.“ The Department of State, however, chose not to alter the Trump-era changes to the visa application forms, and the lawsuit proceeded. On August 11, 2023, Judge Timothy J. Kelly dismissed the lawsuit finding that the plaintiffs failed to state actionable claims under both the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedures Act, and that it is permissible for the Department of State to require visa applicants to share their social media information.
With the dismissal of the lawsuit, the US Government may choose to expand its collection of social media identifiers or handles, as Customs and Border Protection announced in 2021 with regards to the Visa Waiver Program. The Department of State might also choose to expand its list of platforms in the visa application form to include newer platforms such as TikTok. Meanwhile, the use of any social media platform not specified on the drop-down list can still be disclosed in response to the question “have you used additional social media platforms in the last 5 years?” Travelers should be prepared to accurately disclose identifiers when completing visa application forms and are cautioned that the intentional withholding of information could have serious consequences on an applicant’s ability to travel to the United States.