Every so often, a panicked security clearance applicant contacts my office asking whether the information they are providing on their SF-86 can be shared with immigration authorities and used to deport relative(s) living illegally in the United States. The question is a reasonable one. After all, the SF-86 requires applicants to list all immediate relatives and provide their status in the U.S.; to list all foreign national relatives who are close and/or continuing contacts; and to provide location information for all of these relatives, including the name and address of each relative’s employer.

authorized sharing of applicant information

To answer this question, one must first review the “Routine Uses” section of the SF-86 instructions. The current version of the instructions includes the following language pertaining to authorized sharing of applicant information among government agencies:

“To the appropriate Federal, state, local, tribal, foreign, or other public authority responsible for investigating, prosecuting, enforcing, or implementing a statute, rule, regulation, or order where OPM becomes aware of an indication of a violation or potential violation of civil or criminal law or regulation.”

This means that, yes, in theory, the agency investigating or adjudicating a security clearance application could alert immigration authorities to an applicant’s relative(s) living illegally in the United States and enforcement action could be taken against them as a result. But before anyone allows this to dissuade them from applying, I should also point out that in all my years of doing this – first as an investigator and now as a defense attorney – I’ve never seen that actually happen. It doesn’t mean that it won’t happen someday, or even that it won’t happen to you. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. It just means that theory and practice don’t always align in reality. Each applicant has to assess his or her own risk tolerance in light of all available information and proceed accordingly.

The Bigger Issue

An applicant who does decide to continue with the process should be aware, however, that merely maintaining a relationship with a family member residing illegally in the United States is often enough to tank a security clearance application at agencies charged with enforcing immigration law. At other agencies, the threshold for potential disqualification is significantly higher: whether the applicant has supported the relative financially, allowed him or her to live with the applicant, or done anything else to help facilitate the relative’s illegal entry into or continued residence in the United States.

Assuming the applicant has not engaged in any of the above activities, most agencies besides Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recognize that adult family members make their own choices and decline to hold the relative(s) legal status against the applicant unless the relationship(s) pose an independent security risk like foreign influence.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied.  Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials, revocations, and the security clearance application process. He is a former investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management). For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com. Readers will also find a low-cost, self-help option for obtaining copies of their security clearance background investigations and DISS/Scattered Castles records at www.bigleylaw.com/security-clearance-investigation-records.