Most travellers visiting the United States will need to obtain a visa or ESTA visa waiver to gain access to the country. This is a relatively straightforward application (depending on your circumstances), and the ESTA process can all be completed online, so you won’t need to worry about going to an embassy or sending off your passport. As of December 2016, the ESTA application includes a new question from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding social media information, also known as a social media identifier. Read on to find out what the social media identifier question means, what information you need to give, and how this information will be used.
The social media identifier question on the ESTA visa waiver form reads as follows:
This question is optional, so it is not required as a mandatory part of the form. You, therefore, don’t have to worry if you do not have any social media profiles or if you’d rather not enter your details on your application.
If you do not enter your social media identifier information on your ESTA application, there should not be any “negative interpretation or inference” that would affect the validation of your request.
However, it is important to note that no ESTA applications are guaranteed and your request may be denied for any number of reasons.
The social media identifier question was added to the ESTA application in December 2016 to give the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) more information to enhance the vetting process. Your social media account may be used to validate your reasons for travel or identify potential threats to homeland security.
Using your social media profiles also helps the CBP discover more information about your identity, occupation, and previous travel as well as a variety of other factors.
When you enter your social media handles on your ESTA visa waiver application, a specially-trained CBP officer will look into any publicly available information held within your accounts. This publicly available information will be consistent with the privacy settings you have chosen to adopt for each platform. Therefore, the amount of information the CBP can see may vary from account to account.
Your social media identifier information will be used to research your identity and will only be followed up further if there is cause for concern or if the CBP deem it necessary to validate the traveller’s information further.
All ESTA application data will remain active for the length of time that your approved ESTA is valid for. This is generally two years, or until your passport expires (whichever comes first). The DHS will then keep your information on file for a further year before moving it into archives which remain in place for 12 years.
You can find more information about ESTA requirements here.