How AI Could Affect Your Visa Application

Dec 29, 2023 | VISA

giant oak search technology

In the era of advancing technology, artificial intelligence (AI) is permeating various sectors, and the latest inclusion is in border control. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has adopted an AI-powered tool, Giant Oak Search Technology (GOST), to scrutinize social media content for perceived derogatory information related to the U.S. This development, revealed by 404 Media, has sparked concerns regarding privacy and the ethical implications of such extensive surveillance.

Does USCIS Monitor Social Media Activity?

Yes, USCIS actively monitors social media activity as artificial intelligence (AI) permeates various sectors, including border control. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency employs an AI-powered tool named Giant Oak Search Technology (GOST) to meticulously scan social media posts for content deemed “derogatory” to the U.S. This revelation, initially reported by 404 Media, has triggered concerns about privacy and the ethical implications surrounding such extensive surveillance.

In 2019, a pivotal shift occurred when new regulations mandated visa applicants to disclose details of their social media channels from the past five years. While this move aimed to enhance vetting processes, concerns persist about the government’s use of algorithms and the lack of transparency surrounding the tracking of social media users. USCIS conducts surveillance of social media accounts solely for the evaluation of immigration benefits applications, and the findings can significantly influence eligibility decisions.

Trained USCIS officers focus on examining publicly available content online, including posted photos, videos, and comments. If they uncover pertinent information that could impact the application evaluation, these findings may be communicated through interviews or requests for evidence, ultimately placed in the applicant’s file. However, disconcerting revelations suggest that both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) retain the collected social media information indefinitely, even sharing it with foreign governments. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has expressed apprehension about potential privacy violations and the far-reaching consequences arising from such data-sharing practices.

This intersection of technology, immigration, and privacy underscores the need for ongoing scrutiny and safeguards to protect individual rights. 

What is GOST?

GOST, or Giant Oak Search Technology, is an AI-powered tool quietly employed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This potent tool scans the social media posts of visa applicants, providing analysts with a comprehensive view of images and profiles, allowing them to assign ratings. Various government agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, the State Department, and even the Air Force, have been covertly utilizing GOST since 2014. Notably, ICE has invested over $10 million in Giant Oak Inc. for its services since 2017.

How Does GOST Work?

GOST ranks a person’s social media scores from one to 100 based on what it deems relevant to the user’s specific mission. Analysts can review images collected from the subject’s social media accounts and assign them a rating using identifiers such as a person’s name, address, email address, and country of citizenship. This tool can also examine a person’s social media profiles and “social graph” to identify potential connections with others. The tangible impact of such technology was exemplified in 2019 when a Harvard student was denied entry to the U.S. due to his friends’ social media activity, highlighting the life-altering consequences of algorithmic immigration decisions.

What Does USCIS Look for on Social Media Accounts?

USCIS examines social media information to detect falsification in visa applications. If discrepancies are found, they are documented in the individual’s file and related USCIS systems. Social media content is also crucial in background checks to identify security threats, including associations with criminal gangs or terrorist groups. USCIS may even scrutinize social media accounts to prevent marriage fraud or unauthorized employment, ensuring compliance with immigration laws.

Background Checks and Security Threats:

USCIS conducts background checks to determine an applicant’s criminal history or other offenses that may render them ineligible for benefits. Social media content, along with fingerprints and photos collected during a biometric appointment, contributes to a comprehensive background check.

Screening for Marriage Fraud:

For individuals with K-1 visas pursuing a marriage-based green card, USCIS scrutinizes social media accounts to ensure the genuineness of the marriage. Inconsistencies or inaccuracies may lead to suspicions of marriage fraud, with potential legal consequences for the individuals involved.

Screening for Unauthorized Employment:

Non-citizens working in the U.S. without employment authorization risk detection through social media posts. USCIS investigates reports of unauthorized employment, which may lead to penalties such as removal proceedings, visa cancellation, and ineligibility for a green card.

To avoid violating immigration laws, it is crucial to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can guide rules and restrictions. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is essential for legal work in the United States.

Talk to a Qualified Attorney Today at 360 Immigration Law Group

In light of the growing concerns surrounding the intersection of AI, social media scrutiny, and immigration, staying informed about technologies like Giant Oak Search Technology is crucial. The dynamic landscape of technology and immigration policies demands a nuanced understanding. At 360 Immigration Law Group, whether you’re in Coconut Creek, Pompano Beach, Boca Raton, Tamarac, Parkland, Deerfield Beach, Sunrise, Oakland Park, Fort Lauderdale, and Plantation, we are here to be your partners in this critical journey. Contact us at 954.667.3660 for a free consultation.