The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have been criticised for using online translation tools like Google Translate to vet immigrants’ social media posts. The US requires nearly all applicants for US visas to submit details of their social media profiles.

US Immigration Officials use Google Translate to vet immigrants’ social media posts.

Google Translate and other online translation tools have been branded as unreliable when it comes to providing accurate translations, but the USCIS has claimed that copying and pasting the text into Google Translate is “the most efficient approach” when it comes to getting content translated.

“It’s naive on the part of the government officials to do that,” Douglas Hofstadter, a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington, told ProPublica.

He continued: I find it deeply disheartening and stupid and shortsighted, personally.”

The USCIS using Google Translate in their vetting process is a concern for many as there is a risk that bad translations could derail some applications. This has happened before in 2017 when Facebook apologised for a mistranslation of a post by a Palestinian man who wrote “good morning” but Facebook translated it to “hurt them”.

Even though there is risk that online translation tools could mistranslate the content of the social media posts, the USCIS has stated that the information gathered from immigrants’ social media will not be enough by itself to deny refugee resettlement. They have also stated that professional translators can be used to follow up on any cases that are of concern.

For more information about the pros and cons of using Google Translate, please read our previous blog post: