To better understand who is seeking entry into the United States on non-immigrant visas, the U.S. government now conducts social media checks both at the time of your F-1 visa application and upon arrival at a U.S. border. Here’s what you need to know and how can you prepare for these two important security-related steps along your journey to study in the USA.
What social media questions are on the F-1 visa application?
In May 2019, the U.S. Department of State started requiring all applicants for non-immigrant visas, including the F-1 student visa, to answer questions about their social media profiles on the online DS-160 application form. Student visa applicants must now provide their social media identifiers over the last five years from a list of 20 different social media platforms.
Do I have to share my social media passwords?
No, applicants should not provide passwords to their social media profiles. For social media background checks, you only need to share your account usernames or “handles” from a list of 20 platforms. Giving these social media identifiers allows U.S. officials to search your profile’s publicly accessible information on each platform.
The consular officers, according to a State Department FAQ, “would only use this information to determine the applicant’s eligibility for a visa under existing U.S. law.” In effect, these social media background checks are used to verify your identity and to ensure that you are coming to the U.S. to study.
What social media questions do I have to answer when I arrive in the U.S.?
After the U.S. Department of State’s decision to add social media questions to the DS-160 non-immigrant visa application, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—which oversees the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency—introduced a similar policy this summer at U.S. borders.
All visitors to the United States must answer the same two questions asked on the DS-160 when they arrive at a U.S. border to pass through passport control. As with the State Department, the goal of conducting social media checks of visitors is to verify the identity of each person and to protect the national security of the United States.
Just like the State Department, CBP only needs to access what is publicly available on the various platforms where you have profiles—you do not have to share your passwords. While these questions are not optional—you must answer them honestly and completely to be admitted to the United States as an F-1 student visa holder—don’t let them keep you up at night. You can prepare by getting your information in order before your interview or your flight to the U.S. If you have questions or concerns, you can reach out to a U.S. News Global Education advisor to help guide you through the process.