Understanding your visa denial and what to do next

A visa denial can be a devastating setback for you and your family. But that doesn’t mean the end of the road for your dreams of traveling to the United States. Denial can be a simple as a missing document, or it can prove to be complicated. As you go through your visa application process, it’s a good idea to be aware of any setbacks you may experience and have a plan of action in place.

Educate yourself on the common reasons that visas are denied or work with an immigration lawyer to ensure that you stay ahead of any possible roadblocks. Many of the standard causes for denials are outlined in the  Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sections 212(inadmissibility grounds), 214 (failure to prove immigrant intent), and 221 (lack of documentation).

Generally, you will receive a letter in the mail with the reason of your denial. Most often the only explanation included in the letter is the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act of which your ruling is based. In this article, we’ll walk you through the INA sections that may apply to your situation and what your next course of action may be.  

INA section 221(g): Missing documentation

USCIS receives hundreds of thousands of visa applications every year. Every piece of documentation that is required serves a purpose in evaluating the type of people allowed into the United States. When documentation is missing or unverifiable, a fair decision cannot be made.

When submitting your application be sure to fill out the form entirely and mark any questions that do not apply to you as “N/A,” meaning not applicable. If you are including documentation, such as a birth or marriage certificate, in a language other than English, you must include a certified English translation. The translations should also include the translator’s signature, address, and date of translation. Ensure that any photos you are required to submit meet government guidelines and you have signed all necessary forms. Finally, verify that you are including the appropriate filing fees with your application. Check the USCIS website here for the current list of fees.

INA section 214(b): Failure of Immigrant Intent

If you are filing for an immigrant visa for a temporary stay, such as a B1, B2, or TN visa, you have to be able to prove to the consulate that you do intend to return to your home country. If you haven’t convinced the embassy that you have strong ties abroad that would compel you to return home at the end of your stay, then it could be grounds for denial.

A consulate officer may look for evidence such as family member living in the United States and how they obtained their visa. The situation could create suspicion that your ties in the US would compel you to stay indefinitely. It is up to you to provide significant evidence that you intend to return home, such as information on your family relationships, employment, property, or any long-term plans you have in your home country. If you have any doubts on the strength of your evidence, consult an immigration attorney.

INA sections 212 (a)(6)(C)(i-ii): False claims or misrepresentation

Any attempt to misrepresent your intentions for entering the United States or providing false information will immediately result in a visa denial. An example of misrepresentation is to enter the United States on a tourist visa with the intention of applying for a green card once you’ve arrived. It is considered providing false information if you aren’t forthright in any other visa approval processes that you’ve initiated or if you failed to disclose that you are engaged to a US citizen.

INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i): Overstayed your previous visa

Your previous actions while in the US will reflect on your pending visa approval. If you’ve overstayed at a different time, your visa will be denied because it will provide proof to the consulate that you do not intend on abiding by the rules of your visa. If you have not overstayed your visa in the past, but have visited the US a short time ago and are hoping to revisit, it may also raise a red flag, and give cause for denial.

While overstaying your visa may not mean a permanent bar from entering the country, it can mean a bar on when you may re-apply:

  • 3-year bar: Overstayed between 180 days and one year
  • 10-year bar: Overstayed one year or more
  • 10-year bar: An immigration judge ordered a voluntary departure, and you didn’t depart in the time given
  • 20-year bar: An immigration judge ordered your withdrawal on more than one occasion
  • Permanent bar: Reentered or attempted to reenter after you accrued more than one year of unlawful presence in the US. This rule only applies to any attempts made after April 1, 1997

INA section 212(a)(4): Inability to prove financial independence

Most often in family-sponsored visa applications, a stipulation of your approval to enter the US is your ability to support yourself financially. It must be determined that you are financially stable enough to not become dependant on the US government for assistance or the need for a job when you arrive. This is called a “Public Charge.” Financial independence is so vital that becoming a public charge within five years of your date of entry could be grounds for deportation as determined in INA section 237(a)(5).

The USCIS applies factors such as health, family status, assets, resources, education, and financial status help to determine whether or not an individual may become a public charge. Some family-sponsored visa applications require a family member to sign an “affidavit of support” to accept financial responsibility for the relative coming into the United States.

INA section 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I-II): Criminal background

A visa denial involving criminal charges often depends on the type and severity of the crime, when it occurred, and the resulting punishment. The common crimes that can permanently bar someone from entering the country include any violations involving drugs, violations resulting in jail time of five years or more, or any offenses involving moral turpitude.

According to the Board of Immigration Appeals, a conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude generally refers to one that, “shocks the public conscience as being inherently base, vile, or depraved, contrary to the rules of morality and the duties owed between man and man, either one’s fellow man or society in general.” These crimes may include but are not limited to murder, rape, kidnapping, incest, domestic violence, robbery, and fraud. Because not all criminal backgrounds lead to an automatic visa denial due to circumstances and state laws, it is essential to contact an immigration attorney to determine the likelihood of approval.

INA 212(a)(1)(i-iv): Medical history

Persons with medical conditions that are considered public health risks are grounds for visa admissibility. Health risks include contagious diseases, mental illnesses associated with harmful behaviors, the absence of required vaccinations, and a history of drug abuse. If you have been convicted of an alcohol or drug-related crime, you can also be inadmissible on the grounds of health.  Certain medical conditions except those related to drugs or alcohol may be eligible for a waiver.

Generally, nonimmigrant or “tourist” visa applicants, aside from K-1 visas, are not required to undergo a medical examination unless the consulate has reasons to believe you may be inadmissible under INA section 212(a)(1). Medical exams are conducted by Embassy-approved physicians who will make determinations based on your medical history and ask you questions regarding your prescription and mental health history.

Other reasons your visa was denied

Your visa denial is at the discretion of the consulate reviewing your application. While the situations listed above are some of the more common reasons, it does not limit all of the potential rulings of inadmissibility. Other situations may include:

  • Former US citizens who previously renounced citizenship to avoid being taxed
  • Partaking in the practice of polygamy
  • The guardian accompanying the visa applicant is an inadmissible person
  • The visa applicant was disrespectful or arrogant during the interview process
  • The visa applicant could not communicate effectively in English

If you believe your visa was wrongly denied, contact a reputable immigration attorney as soon as possible.

Common reasons an F-1 student visa is denied

Students, just like those who apply for nonimmigrant visa have to prove their intent to leave the US]. The receipt of an I-20 document from your school or university does not guarantee visa approval. Students must be able to prove that they are in fact a student, they have the funds to pay for their schooling, and living expenses while in the United States, and that they intend to leave the US after their studies have concluded.

Common reasons a K-1 “fiance” visa is denied

In 2017, more than 35% of all K-1 visa applications were denied. This category of visa applications experiences a high number of fraud. Most denied cases involved the lack of proof to validate a legitimate relationship. However, the good news is that of the 35%, approximately 60% were reversed after they were appealed.

If you decide that a K-1 visa is a better course of action for your situation instead of applying for a spousal visa after you are married, it is in your best interest to be extra careful in documenting your relationship. Consult an immigration attorney to help improve your chances of approval or to assist in a decision reversal.

What to do if your visa was denied

Know that if your visa has been denied, it doesn’t mean the end of your chances of entering the US. Denial is not permanent, and you are permitted to re-apply as many times as necessary. There is no time restriction on when you can re-apply, but it is in your best interest to provide the additional evidence or documentation required based on your rejection letter. Keep in mind that you do not receive a refund on your visa application fee if you are denied.

Be wary of reaching out to a “visa consultant” to help overturn your ruling. Many applicants have been defrauded out of time and money while working with visa consultants. Note that if you were denied at a local US consulate, you would not achieve different results if you re-apply at a different embassy with the same information. Your visa application and data are stored in a central database that all US consulates share.

You may apply for a waiver of ineligibility depending on the specific INA section that has been cited in your denial. You have one year from the denial decision to file a waiver. Waivers are available, but not limited to, the denial situations listed below:

  • Multiple criminal convictions
  • Some infectious diseases
  • Some mental disorders
  • Conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude
  • Prostitution
  • Violations of US immigration laws

In most cases, a denial often means the need for you to provide more information to support your reasons for entering the US. After a denial, your first step should be to contact a reputable immigration attorney. They can help walk you through the steps to reverse the decision, apply for a waiver or offer guidance to ensure a more successful experience.

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