Increasingly, foreign nationals who want to visit the U.S. temporarily – for business, to visit an ill relative, or for vacation – are unable to secure a U.S. visa. In some cases, their visa request is denied; in others, their existing visa is revoked. The applicant is typically seeking a B-1 (for business) and/or B-2 (for pleasure, tourism and / or medical treatment). And in the context of recent U.S. sanctions on Russians and Venezuelans, foreign nationals must also be aware of the political climate in which the U.S. visa process sits. This article presents a few key lessons stemming from our experience with clients encountering temporary U.S. visitor visa issues, with a more comprehensive note attached.
From the outset, applicants should be aware that the U.S. government views granting a visa as a privilege, not a right. Consular officers in U.S. embassies and consulates exercise broad discretion during the visa process. Though seemingly obvious, the applicant needs to follow the procedures, step-by-step, to ensure the application is presented properly and supported with necessary documentation. For example, failure to appear for an interview does not make a good impression.
The predominant reason for being denied a visa is that an applicant does not document the reasons to return to his or her home country after the intended U.S. visit. Unless shown otherwise, the consular official at the local U.S. embassy or consulate will presume that the applicant intends to permanently remain in the U.S. By including essential documents to support the reasons for both the applicant’s intended visit to the U.S. and obligations and responsibilities at home afterwards, the applicant is making the review process easier for the consular official. Relatedly, an applicant also needs to demonstrate that he/she has the financial means to travel to and from the U.S. without seeking public assistance during his/her visit.
In addition, many B-1 and B-2 (or combined) visa applications are denied because the applicant failed to prove with documentation that he or she has a valid reason to enter the U.S. temporarily. For example, if the applicant wants to visit a critically ill relative, include a doctor’s note concerning the relative’s health condition. If the applicant wants to attend a business conference, include the conference program and confirmation of the applicant’s participation.
A common mistake is looking to appeal the consular decision if the visa is denied or revoked. The only way to “appeal” a visa rejection or revocation is to reapply. By reapplying and including only essential supporting documents, the consular official will see that the applicant is following the process properly and this will likely improve his/her chances of success.
Also, in some cases, the prior decision letter will reference a reason for the rejection or denial. When reapplying, the applicant should specifically address any reference made in the decision letter.
Sometimes applicants are “surprised” by a visa denial or revocation. Before applying for a visa, applicants should look closely at their presence on the web and on social media to see what public information is available about them. A simple Google search of the applicant’s name is the best place to start. The consular official will likely be doing the same. If there is any misinformation out there, the applicant should address it head on in the application and attach supporting documents to counter any rumors.
Once granted a temporary U.S. visitor visa, applicants should be aware that they still can be turned away at the U.S. port of entry, most often at the airport. For example, if the applicant arrives with a flashy business entourage yet the purported purpose of the B-2 visa is to visit a terminally ill parent, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent may refuse to let the person enter. The CBP agent has the authority to turn someone away if the applicant’s story does not match the stated reason for the visa.
Lastly, the applicant must leave the U.S. before his / her visa expires. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as a medical emergency landing the person in the hospital, overstaying a visa is a serious strike against the person, which can result in a visa revocation or deportation.
Applicants who successfully abide by the terms of their visitor visas also build credibility and increase their likelihood of being granted future visas. Whenever an applicant applies for a visa, the consular official will access the U.S. State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) database and see that the person has previously been granted a visa and successfully honored the terms – i.e., complied with the purpose of visit, did not seek public assistance, and returned to the home country without overstaying. Every time the applicant successfully abides by the process throughout the stay, his / her credibility is enhanced in the U.S. visa processing system.
Subsequently, if the applicant wants to live and work permanently in the U.S., he / she can apply for a “green card” (lawful permanent resident or LPR). All of the prior visits will be evaluated as part of the process. However, if the applicant was previously granted a green card and then let it lapse, or the person had denounced affiliation with the U.S., the reasons for not maintaining the green card will need to be explained clearly the next time the applicant applies for a temporary visitor visa. If the consular official reviewing the visa application sees willful disrespect for the visa process, that does not bode well for the applicant.
These are just some of the key lessons we have learned while supporting clients successfully applying for a temporary U.S. visitor visa. Please contact us if you need assistance with this process. We can provide you with an initial consultation to address your specific circumstances.