People are often mystified as to why they were denied nonimmigrant B visas (for business and pleasure) to the U.S. I've heard countless stories of denials, with people recounting anecdotes of friends who were ostensibly "perfect" candidates for nonimmigrant visas, and yet “callous” U.S. consular officers nonetheless apathetically denied their visa applications in a just a couple of minutes without even conducting cursory reviews of their carefully collated documents. Sounds familiar? I'm sure you've heard similar stories. Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room: blaming the consular officer.
While I'm sure that the U.S. Foreign Service has its fair share of bad apples, my initial reaction as a U.S. immigration law practitioner is to give the consular officer every benefit of the doubt. Surprising as it may be to many people, I do not believe that U.S. consular officers wake up on workdays at their posts around the globe, rubbing their hands in glee, grinning in eager anticipation at the number of upcoming visa applications that they'll be denying throughout the day.
Furthermore, there's no backroom competition between the officers for the greatest number of visa denials. Let's dispel that myth right now. They may be young; they’re not juvenile. It's true that some U.S. consular officers may be less than thrilled (or worse) with their first posting abroad, which almost always involves them being relegated to the visa section, adjudicating visa applications. However, it's unlikely that they would take out any grumpiness on innocent visa applicants. After all, these officers worked hard to be in the Foreign “SERVICE”.
So why did you or your friend get denied? While you may never know the true reason, here are some clues to help you. First, know that the vast majority of B visa denials are based upon INA 214(b), while the next most common denial is probably based upon INA 221(g). Although the consular officer is supposed to provide you with a boilerplate denial letter that references 214(b) or 221(g), many consular officers have stopped providing those documents to denied applicants despite being required to do so. If you know the statutory basis for the denial, that would help you to figure out the cause for it.
Second, you should know that consular officers have a ton of visa applications to adjudicate daily, as many as ten per hour, leaving just six minutes for each interview. In that time, they have to make a game time decision, “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”, as to whether to let the applicant board an aircraft headed for the USA. Sometimes they err significantly, both with approvals and with denials. Consuls General readily admit that. It's not a perfect system, but a better one hasn't been devised or at least implemented yet. It's challenging to capably assess someone's eligibility and intentions in such a short space of time, notwithstanding that the "speed dating" industry relies heavily on that very concept. It's even harder when the applicant is not articulate. However, rather than swimming against the tide, use this knowledge to your advantage.
Practice and perfect your "elevator pitch" (which is the ability to sell yourself to a potential employer while sharing a thirty second elevator cab ride). Be organized and ready to advocate effectively for yourself from the moment that the consular officer begins the interview. Now, presuming that the consular officer was not having a bad day and that you were the most amazing advocate for your case, but were still nevertheless denied a visa, it may have been due to one of the reasons below. I have listed them in order of most common, in my opinion, to least common. Take caution though. Some of these reasons may cause you to scratch your head, saying “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t”. That sentiment is understandable. As a result, consider reaching out to a U.S. immigration lawyer before you submit your first application and start accruing a history of denials.
Helpful statistics on various Caribbean nations' visa denial rates and visa overstay rates are in the comments section. (Scroll to the very bottom). You can also share your own U.S. visa interview stories there.
Twenty Reasons for U.S. Visa Denials:
1. “I'm Not Convinced That You'll Be Back!”
You’ll be denied a U.S. nonimmigrant visa under INA 214(b) if you cannot show sufficiently strong ties to your home country. We’re talking about: (a) having active employment and solid employment history commensurate with your age, (b) owning a business, (c) owning real property, (d) owning a motor vehicle, and/or (e) possessing bank accounts. Those FIVE things are key! If you don’t have any of those five things, forget about proving that: (i) you have numerous blood relatives who reside in your home country; (ii) you are actively involved in your community; (iii) you have letters of invitation from people in the U.S.; or, (iv) you have access to finances for your trip. Unless you’re a student who hasn't yet finished school, having a thousand blood relatives in your home country and equally as many invitation letters from U.S. citizens, all of whom are billionaires willing to finance your trip, wouldn’t save your application from a denial. For a complete list of documents to consider taking to your interview, read my blog post, Improve Your Approval Chances: B-2 Visitor Visa.
Every year, thousands of visitors overstay their U.S. visits and concomitantly abandon relatives back in their home countries. Similarly, while invitation letters had some value thirty or forty years ago, they’re completely worthless today. I stake my name to that statement. Since the advent of the Internet, it’s not hard to get an invitation letter from someone in the U.S.A. Moreover, an invitation letter doesn’t prevent you from ultimately overstaying against the inviter’s wishes. If you’re a student who has not yet had a full time job, show the consular officer that you’re still in school and need to return in order to finish your examinations and graduate.
2. Subpar Interview Presentation.
If your interviewing skills aren’t up to snuff, you risk being denied a visa. The officer is a skilled interviewer who will read your body language and assess the veracity of your statements based on a number of different indicia: (a) the quickness of your responses, (b) the omission of important information, (c) wrongly answering simple questions, etc. It doesn’t hurt to refresh your memory on the evening before your interview so that you can quickly and accurately respond to the officer’s questions. Additionally, your attire and your demeanor will also be assessed by the officer. Dress properly and answer questions quickly, courteously, and candidly. Maintain eye contact with the officer. If you’re asked a question to which you should know the answer but don’t, you’ll be in trouble. For example, if you’re traveling with a group of musicians and you hesitate upon being asked which instrument you play, the interview is almost certainly over.
3. Something Bizarre Is Afoot.
If the consular officer thinks that something isn’t adding up during the interview, your application won’t be approved. These things usually come down to pure and simple common sense. For example, if you claim to need a visa to visit a new platonic friend of the opposite sex in the United States, someone of marrying age for you, and that person is way too eager to provide lots of typically private financial information to you to give to the consulate, the officer may think that there’s a romantic relationship afoot and that you really intend to get married upon arriving in the U.S. Not only may you end up with a denial, you may end up with a finding of making a fraudulent representation to a consular official, which will cause you even more problems in the future.
4. Profiling: You're the Quintessential Candidate for a Denial.
Yes, consular officers do engage in profiling to help them to quickly adjudicate applications. At known high fraud posts like in India, it’s not uncommon for applicants to be denied after being asked just two questions. For instance, if a 23 year old man answers that he intends to visit a 19 year old woman, and then answers the next question by saying that she’s a traveling musician, most officers won’t even bother continuing the interview. If those are the facts that you’re taking with you to your interview, it’s not worth your time or expense in applying for a visa.
5. You Were Previously Denied a Similar U.S. Visa.
Although the way to appeal a visa denial is to file a new visa application, many consular officers will ask you to show “changed circumstances” before even considering or reviewing the application. If there are no changed circumstances, and you simply failed to advocate properly for yourself the last time, you’re going to have to say that right from the get-go and passionately assert that your application should be considered anew. Lawyers can help you by providing “pocket letters” with a distillation of your entire application into one cogent letter that should be less than a page and constitute easy reading.
6. You Don't Have Enough Money.
If you don’t have funds, whether yours or someone else’s, to cover your anticipated expenses in the U.S., you better pray that the consular officer accidentally spilled some sort of hallucinogen into his coffee that morning. Short of that happening, your application isn’t getting approved. How much finances are enough? Read my blog post, Improve Your Approval Chances: B-2 Visitor Visa
7. Your Relatives or "Known Cohorts" Immigrated to the U.S.
If you have relatives or are somehow affiliated with people who previously visited the U.S. and ultimately remained there, even if it was legally accomplished, whether because they married Americans or successfully requested asylum, that may regrettably come to haunt your ability to qualify for a U.S. visa. For example, if the U.S. consulate grants visas to a group of scouts to attend a Jamboree gathering in the U.S. and several of them fail to return home, the ones who returned could be in a real pickle on their ensuing visa renewal applications.
Speaking of relatives' applications negatively affecting yours, your application could be denied in order to ensure that an immediate relative, such as your child, would return home rather than overstay in the U.S. In other words, if two parents and a child apply for visas, the officer may deny a visa to one of the parents while approving the remaining visa applications. This common procedure is described as "taking a hostage". The Foreign Affairs Manual directs consular officers not to do this, but the practice persists nonetheless.
8. Rookie Consular Officer (or an Unknowledgeable One).
Unfortunately, consular officers make mistakes, whether because they’re new, their job is a mismatch, or because they choose, on a case by case basis, not to follow the guidance of the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual which governs them. Either way, your options to rectify this situation will be limited, even with a lawyer who advocates on your behalf.
9. You Lack Travel History/Experience.
If you haven’t traveled previously, it may be better to have some experience doing so before you apply for a U.S. visa. If there are countries that you can visit in your region for which visas are not required, consider visiting them before applying for a U.S. visa. If you’re from a Commonwealth country and can visit the United Kingdom without first having to obtain a visa (or you're from a country whose nationals are exempt from Europe's "Schengen" visa requirement), consider visiting one of those places before applying for a U.S. visa, especially if you will be presenting a weak application to the U.S. consulate.
10. You’re Planning a Long Stay in the USA
While you should be truthful with the interviewing officer, you’ll likely face additional scrutiny if you need the visa for a prolonged visit to the U.S. Consider planning for your first trip, the one for which you need the visa, to be a short one. A week or two is better than a month or two.
11. “Why Are You in the U.S. So Much?”.
While you will likely be allowed to stay in the U.S. for six months upon entering the country, you’ll quite possibly cause problems for yourself if you do that and then attempt to return shortly thereafter. U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) may cancel your visa if you were to return to the U.S. too quickly, and you may not so easily get another visa when you go back to the U.S. consulate.
12. You Changed “Status” Too Quickly on a Prior Visit to the USA.
If you enter the U.S. on your B visa and then quickly attempt to switch to another status, whether F-1 Student or E-2 investor, to name a couple of examples, the U.S. consulate could hold that against you on a subsequent visa application.
13. You Previously Filed an Immigrant Visa Application, i.e. DS-260 [NOT an I-130!].
If you previously applied to reside in the U.S. and you were denied, it’s going to be really tough for you to get approved for a nonimmigrant visa. People who wish to reside in the U.S. apply for immigrant visas while persons wishing to visit apply for nonimmigrant visas. (If you're interested in an Immigrant Visa so that you can become a U.S. Permanent Resident, read my blog post, "The 4 Routes to U.S. Permanent Residence").
If the immigrant visa application (i.e. DS-260) was not denied, but remains pending, your nonimmigrant visa application (DS-160) may also be denied even though the consulate should not technically hold the mere pendency of the immigrant visa application, absent more, against you. Thankfully, most don't. As long as you can show that you would return to your home country before obtaining your immigrant visa, you should be able to receive a nonimmigrant visa, even if you filed a DS-260. (If a relative filed an I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for which you are the beneficiary, that is not the same as a DS-260 Immigrant Visa application).
14. You Previously Had U.S. Permanent Residence but Surrendered It.
If you previously filed I-407 and surrendered your U.S. permanent residence because the U.S.A. just wasn’t for you, some consulates won’t be thrilled about issuing you a nonimmigrant visa. The rationale is that you liked the U.S.A. once, you may decide to overstay. That logic isn’t great, and while it’s not used at consulates in developed nations, some consular officers do employ
it, especially at high fraud posts.
15. You’re Not Applying at the U.S. Consulate for Your Place of Residence
If you’re applying at a consulate other than in your home country, referred to as Third Country National (TCN) processing, you have an elevated chance of being denied a visa. The logic is that you could be trying to bypass the consulate in your home country for some unsavory reason, and they're going to shut down your attempts to do so unless you can prove that you've been away from your home country for an extended period of time.
16. Had or Intend to Deliver a Child While in the U.S.
This does not appear to be a frequent reason for denials, but it does infrequently happen. Some officers have strong feelings against people flying to the U.S. in order to give U.S. citizenship to their children by merely being born in the U.S, i.e. "birthright citizenship".
17. Fraudulent Documents.
Whether invitations to visit to visit the U.S. or proof of financial support for your anticipated trip there, a document that either looks fake or appears to be fake can cause you grief if the officer scrutinizes and investigates it. Anyone who uses fake documents and gets caught would be subject to a finding of misrepresentation to a U.S. consular officer. That would be a colossal problem for future visa applications. You'll need to apply for a 212(d)(3) waiver. See my blog post, Messed up on Your Last Visit to USA? Ask for A "Hranka" Waiver. Talk about rolling the dice with ever visiting the U.S. again!
18. Failing to Follow the Consulate’s Specific Requirements
Consulates that adjudicate a lot of visa applications will have lots of unique requirements in order to ensure that their processes flow smoothly. If you step out of line and disrupt their momentum, expect to pay dearly for it.
19. Revenge Letters.
Whether it’s an ex spouse, an unhappy former flame, a disgruntled employee, you name it, letters from such individuals to the U.S. consulate can potentially adversely impact your application.
20. Minor Criminal Convictions Suggest You’ll Graduate to Serious Crimes.
While some small violations of the law won’t bar you from getting a U.S. nonimmigrant visa, they may be suggestive that you’ll commit more serious crimes while in the U.S..
Although the denial is supposed to be “without prejudice”, meaning that you can immediately reapply for a visa without the denial being held against your new application, the reality is that many consular officers will want to know what’s changed since the previous denial. A consular officer may even ask what evidence you brought with you to demonstrate that the prior officer’s decision was wrong. If you keep applying to the point that you have a history of two or three denials, you’ll have a real climb to prevail on your subsequent applications, even if you were to involve a lawyer at that point.
If you have doubts about succeeding with your application, ask a U.S. immigration lawyer for help, starting with your very first application. If you succeed and obtain your B visa, be sure to read my blog post, Using a B visa to visit USA? Here's what you can do ...
Good luck at the Consulate! Before you go, consider leaving a comment at the bottom to help other readers. Thanks!