The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been criticized for using online translation tools to check migrants’ social media posts, following a report highlighting the issue by ProPublica news.
Although Google said the translation service was not intended to replace human translators, it should not be relied upon for complex tasks, but the US government used it to help decide whether refugees should be allowed access to the country based on their social media posts.
The Citizenship and Immigration Services Staff Guide recommends using one of the many free online translation services provided by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other search engines to translate publications in foreign languages.
The FEMA Guide also contains guidelines on how to use Google Translate, explaining that pasting text into tools, such as Google Translate or Bing, was the most effective method.
The report, which received evidence and documentation from the International Refugee Aid Project (IRAP), said online translation tools often translate sentences incorrectly and misinterpret linguistic differences between Mandarin and Slang.
But Citizenship and Immigration Services told the news agency that checking social media posts was a good procedure, explaining that information collected from social media platforms would not be a basis for refusing to resettle refugees.
Betsy Fisher, director of strategy at IRAP, said: “We are very concerned that the government is instructing officials to use unqualified software during the screening, which determines whether a refugee can reach the country and reunite with his family.
The Staff Manual explains the procedures will be used when checking people who have already been granted refugee status in the United States by their spouse or parents, who acknowledges that online translation services may not fully understand the local dialect or sometimes slang.
Language experts told ProPublica that relying on translators for social media posts is likely to lead to errors because they cannot identify slang or nuances.
The United States now requires all visa applicants to provide details of social media accounts.