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U.S Tourist Visa Was Denied: Nine Frequently Asked Questions

In many countries around the world, if you stand outside the U.S. Embassy long enough, you are likely to be approached by someone offering to enlighten you (for a small fortune) about the secrets to receiving a tourist visa. The reality is, there is no secret formula. Legally, a consular officer must assume that every applicant for a tourist visa intends to immigrate to the U.S. It is up to the applicant to convince them otherwise. In many countries, this is a substantial hurdle.

My relative only wants to visit for a week. Why didn’t the officer believe them?

While most travelers use their visa in a perfectly legitimate manner, there are still significant numbers of undocumented persons living in the U.S., who initially entered the U.S. on a tourist visa.

In addition to screening for applicants who may overstay their visa, a consular officer must be convinced that the applicant will not use the visa to work temporarily, apply for public benefits or asylum, or change to an immigrant status. They must also be convinced the applicant will obey U.S. laws during their visit.

An officer typically has only about two minutes to assess an applicant’s individual situation and make this determination. The officer primarily makes this decision based on the interview, various database checks and verifications, and may reference (and verify) documents that an applicant presents.

Each consular section conducts studies to determine whether applicants abuse their visas. In countries with higher rates of misuse, officers are likely to be stricter. This is not necessarily a personal judgment of your relative’s credibility. Each applicant is assessed as an individual, but if your relative falls into a category of persons who have shown they are statistically highly likely to abuse their visas, it may be more difficult for your relative to convince the officer that they will respect the limits of the visa.

I am paying for my relative’s entire trip. I will make sure they leave the U.S. on time. Why is my relative’s financial situation relevant?

The requirements for a tourist visa extend beyond an applicant’s ability to pay for a single trip to the U.S. A visa is valid for up to ten years, allowing an applicant to make multiple trips during that period of time. Therefore, the applicant must demonstrate strong ties (economic and/or social) to their home countries. A visa limited to one trip is rarely issued for pleasure travel.

Additionally, a visa cannot be issued to an applicant based on the guarantees of another person. Adult applicants must qualify based on their own merits.

But my relative is only 10 years old and I would like her to visit…. how can she demonstrate financial stability?

Minor applicants usually qualify on the merits of their parents. Therefore, if your relative is a minor, the consular officer will normally evaluate the stability of their parent’s situation, even if the parents are not traveling with them and even if a relative in the U.S. has invited the applicant for a visit.

I think the officer made a mistake. Should my relative re-apply?

Embassies and consulates usually advise applicants to wait at least one year to re-apply. The reason for this is because, in a period of less than a year, it is unlikely that a person’s situation will change significantly enough to affect the outcome of the visa decision. An applicant who has recently been denied a visa, and quickly re-applies, will often be asked to explain what has changed in their situation since their last interview. Even if an applicant gets a great new job with a good salary, consular officers are looking for stability in the applicant’s situation.

Here are some examples of the factors consular officers consider in determining whether an applicant has strong economic and social ties to a country. There is not one factor that guarantees a tourist visa will be issued or denied. Consular officers weigh a combination of these factors to make their decisions.

  • Has the applicant traveled to the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia? Did they respect the limits of their visas?
  • Do any of the applicant’s immediate family members have visas?
  • Does the applicant have an established bank account? Are they living paycheck to paycheck?
  • Does the applicant have strong enough earnings in their home country to deter them from working in the U.S. on their tourist visa?
  • How long has the applicant been in their job?
  • What is the applicant’s education level?
  • Does the applicant own property?
  • What is the applicant’s living situation? (renting, living with parents, married etc.)
  • Has the applicant had issues with police or U.S. immigration?

My relative is elderly and does not work. How can they prove financial stability?

If your relative is of retirement age, the officer will evaluate their situation a bit differently and may focus more on the applicant’s social ties and family support, rather than current employment. The officer still must be convinced the applicant will return to their home country and will not misuse the visa.

My relative is married with children. His family is staying behind while he visits me. Isn’t this enough to prove that my relative will return to their home country?

An applicant’s family ties to their home country are only one factor in determining whether they qualify for a tourist visa. The officer must also be convinced the applicant will not abuse the visa and work unlawfully in the U.S., even if they do not overstay the visa.

My relative brought lots of documents to the interview, but the officer did not even look at them. Should my relative re-apply and insist that the officer review their documents?

The consular interview is the most important tool that a consular officer uses to determine whether they will issue a tourist visa. They use documentary evidence and database checks to validate information they receive in the interview.

For example, if an applicant has only been in their job for a few months, has a low salary, and still lives with their parents, this may lead the officer to determine that the applicant has insufficient ties to their home country. An officer is not likely to ask for additional documents to verify these facts because a document that states these same facts will not alter their decision.

There is an immigration advisor in my relative’s home country that helps applicants prepare for their visa interview. Would this possibly help my relative next time?

U.S. immigration law is highly complex. If you need legal advice regarding your immigration case, you should speak with a licensed attorney who specializes in U.S. immigration law. In many countries, there are businesses and individuals that assist applicants with visa forms and also offer immigration advice, but they may not be licensed attorneys.

Most applicants can fill out the on-line tourist visa application without assistance. If your relative needs assistance, and someone else completes the application for them, it is your relative’s responsibility to ensure that the information is accurate.

Most importantly, your relative should answer the officer’s questions truthfully and present only legitimate documents to the officer. Consular officers have access to vast amounts of information regarding criminal history, prior travel, and family relationships. They routinely check the validity of bank statements, job letters, etc. If an applicant is dishonest in any aspect of their interview, the officer may doubt whether the applicant will respect the limits of the visa. It is never advisable to give false information or present false documents in a consular interview. This can result in permanent visa ineligibility.

If your relative has a complicated situation, or you just want to ensure you are getting accurate advice, you should speak to a licensed attorney who specializes in U.S. immigration law.

Can I contact the embassy or consulate to obtain more information as to why my relative’s visa was refused?

Most embassies and consulates have an e-mail address that the public can use to ask questions about visas, but they will usually not provide information on specific visa cases to anyone other than the applicant or the applicant’s designated attorney. You should check the website of the embassy or consulate where your relative applied for more information on their policy regarding public inquiries.

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About Michael Harwin

Michael’s skill and experience have been recognized repeatedly. He holds an A-V 5/5 preeminent rating by Martindale Hubbell. He has been named one of the top lawyers in Arizona by Southwest Superlawyers, and one of the best lawyers in Tucson by Tucson Lifestyle Magazine. He also has been named one of the best lawyers in the United States by BestofUS.com , and given the highest rating possible by AVVO, 10/10 Superb.
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