USCIS Wants to Learn about You on Facebook and Other Social Networking Sites

A recent USCIS memo (undated, source unknown) discussed a new way of learning about you: visiting your social network profiles. They even have a good name for it: unannounced cyber “site visit.” In plain English, secretly peeking at what you do or say online.

The primary purpose is to detect fraud. Say you have been talking to your friends on Facebook for a year about your girlfriend in another country, and how you’ve been planning for the big day, but all of a sudden you applied for green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. Not saying that it won’t happen – people do fall in love quickly – but you bet it will raise a couple red flags if USCIS officials somehow become aware of your above conversations.

However effective it may be, the method itself sounds a little creepy. Are there undercover USCIS agents who register on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networks just so they can “friend” their targets for investigation? What is next?

Internet privacy, or the lack thereof, has been debated extensively for years. The increasing popularity of social networks makes it an even more pressing issue. But now you know that as an immigrant, you really have to be extremely careful what you say online – not to defraud anyone, but to avoid unnecessary questioning later on in your immigration journey.

Below is an excerpt from the memo:

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Blassmates, Hi-5 and other similar sites are designed to allow people to share their creativity, pictures, and information with others. Sometimes people do this to find romance, sometimes they do it to find friends with similar interests, and sometimes they do it to keep in touch with family. Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of “friends” link to their pages and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don’t even know. This provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS (Fraud Detection and National Security – IR) to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities. Generally, people on these site speak honestly in their network because all of their friends and family are interacting with them via IM’s (Instant Messages), Blogs (Weblog journals), etc. This social networking gives FDNS an opportunity to reveal fraud by browsing these sites to see if petitioners and beneficiaries are in a valid relationship or are attempting to deceive CIS about their relationship. Once a user posts online, they creat a public record and timeline of their activities. In essence, using MySpace and other like sites is akin to doing an unannounced cyber “site-visit” on a petitioners and beneficiaries.

4 thoughts on “USCIS Wants to Learn about You on Facebook and Other Social Networking Sites

  1. Mike Jones

    These are public sites and if you post information on these sites, why wouldn’t a government agency look at what your actual intent may be. It’s their job to determine if your intent in the relationship is bona fide and this is just one more tool to help them do their job. If you find it creepy, don’t post anything that could result in your case being investigated further and possibly denied.

  2. IR_Blog Post author

    Hi Mike,

    Maybe the word “creepy” wasn’t the best choice, but I hope my point was clear. Imagine a situation where you know someone in your neighborhood is watching and reporting you, but you have no idea who that person is or what he is looking for. There is nothing illegal about it, but it still feels uncomfortable.

    One may say that if you don’t have anything to hide, what are you afraid of? Well, what if USCIS misunderstands me? A few posts on a social network sometimes don’t tell a whole story, as we all know, and can be easily mis-interpreted by a person not familiar with the situation. For something as complicated as immigration, it is unreasonable to expect everyone to know what posts “could result in their case being investigated further.” So should they avoid using social networks altogether?

    It is important to point out that we do support USCIS’ fraud detection activities. Sham marriages, in particular, are draining resources which could have been used to speed up legitimate immigration case processing. So cutting down fraudulent activities will no doubt benefit our community in the long run. At what price, though?

  3. Mike Jones

    Since all USCIS officers are required to present any derogatory evidence to the petitioner to allow them to respond prior to denying their case, if there was a misunderstanding about a posting on a social networking site we have to presume the petitioner could provide a sufficient explanation. This is assuming the USCIS office enforces following the 8 CFR through each officer’s supervisor reviewing their Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID) and final adverse decisions.

    Viewing a vague posting by itself would not be a preponderant reason to serve a NOID on the petition though. USCIS should continue to review these web sites because they sometimes discover either the petitioner or more often times the applicant who is already living in the U.S. has recent postings seeking romantic advances from persons who are not their current spouse and while this alone may not be sufficient to come to the conclusion that the qualifying relationship is not valid, it’s a huge step in that direction and USCIS should call the validity of the relationship into question.

  4. IR_Blog Post author

    I believe all legitimate immigrants will appreciate a chance to explain their situation, should a misunderstanding arise from their online posting. They still want to avoid unnecessary RFE or NOID though, which would certainly add unnecessary twists to an already lengthy process.

    Poking around social networks to look for marriage fraud tips can be an very effective and inexpensive way (hence the example in original post). However, will USCIS expand it to other areas, such as employment authorization, EB class eligibility, non-immigrant visa, etc.? For example, if a person holding a valid B-1/B-2 visa inquires about the job market in the U.S. before arriving, will his questions posted online be used against him later on as evidence that he did have immigrant intent when entering on B visa?

    The number of people committing immigration fraud, hopefully, is small compared to millions who come to the U.S. legally each year. Whatever tool USCIS feels necessary to use against fraudulent activities, I hope its impact on the daily lives of honest immigrants is also thoroughly considered and discussed.

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