Visa Applicants' Social Media and Online Friends May Be Held Against Them

Earlier this summer, we wrote, “If you’re applying for a visa, you can make your immigration lawyer’s life easier and improve your chances of success if you think before you tweet.” We should have added, “and distance yourself from those who don’t.”

On May 30, the State Department began asking visa applicants for their social media handles so that agents could review the last five years of the applicants' social media behavior. Recently, The Harvard Crimson reported that an incoming Palestinian freshman from Lebanon had his visa cancelled after agents searched his phone and computer. In a written statement, Ismail B. Ajjawi said that officials went through his computer and phone for five hours. 

“After the 5 hours ended, she called me into a room , and she started screaming at me,” Aijawi wrote. “She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list.” He pointed out that he had not written any posts like that, nor had he shared or liked those posts. He contends that he didn’t post about politics on his timeline, but he was told that he was being deported and allowed to phone his parents. 

According to Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, this is not the first time during the Trump Administration that incoming freshmen and faculty have dealt with immigration challenges on a scale that they didn't face under previous administrations. 

"Students report difficulties getting initial visas—from delays to denials,” Bacow wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan last July. “Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigration processes such as family visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel.”

Ten days after returning to Lebanon while his lawyers worked to sort out the matter, Aijawi was allowed to return to the U.S. and enter Harvard. His individual case worked out, but his situation underscores the importance of prospective visa applicants to keep their social media networks as apolitical as possible. “I shouldn't be held responsible for what others post,” Aijawi wrote, but right now, applicants should assume that they are. 

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