Green card interview tip: Expect questions about social media profiles
When I prep employees for their green card interview, I give them a list of do’s and don’ts: dress businesslike, speak clearly, and look the interviewer in the eye; don’t overshare or attempt to answer before you understand the question.
A new warning now tops my list: be prepared for questions about social media accounts. Green card applicants should assume that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers have searched their public profiles for any red flags before their interview. What types of red flags? On professional networking sites, do the employee’s title, employer, and job description reflect the job they are currently performing, as well as the job on which their green card application is based? Does their work address match the worksite on their application? Is the work experience displayed on their profile or online resume consistent with descriptions elsewhere, such as their employer’s website?
Applicants should take a critical look at how government officials may perceive images and language. Photos or posts featuring alcohol, drugs, or political opinions could raise suspicion. Applicants in states where marijuana is legal should be aware that it remains a controlled substance under federal law and its use can render them inadmissible even without an arrest or conviction. Applicants’ associations and affiliations could also trigger questions: are they pictured in a relationship with someone other than their named spouse? Do their online comments or participation suggest membership in an organization, such as the Communist Party, that can be grounds for inadmissibility? Have they posted anything indicating that their intentions are at odds with the terms of their visa, such as working without authorization while on a student or tourist visa?
What was once an ad-hoc vetting measure is evolving into a standard procedure for U.S. authorities. In 2016, the Obama administration began asking visitors from the 38 visa-exempt countries to voluntarily provide their social media usernames when registering or renewing their online travel authorization (ESTA). After President Trump’s travel ban and “extreme vetting” directives in 2017, the State Department introduced a lengthy visa questionnaire, including social media questions, but only for applicants deemed to warrant scrutiny. The questionnaire may soon be required for all applicants. Meanwhile, the section requiring applicants to disclose all social media platforms and usernames they have used in the past five years was recently added to the nonimmigrant visa application. While social media questions are not (yet) mandatory for green card applicants, questions about their online profiles and activity are fair game during the green card interview. Applicants should be prepared to answer their interviewer’s questions if a search of their online presence turns up anything suspect.
Some employees have waited years for their green card interview. The stakes are too high for applicants not to perform a careful review of every photo, video, and post associated with them and be prepared to answer questions about any inconsistent, erroneous, or inappropriate content. When I tell clients to dress neatly and conduct themselves in a professional manner during their interview, I remind them that their social media profiles should be just as professional and tidy.
Melissa Jaffar is an Associate in the San Francisco office of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP.
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