U.S. Visa Policy: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet student visa requirements.”  In other words, the onus is on the applicant to make her/his case and do it quickly.  The application fee of $140 and the SEVIS fee of $200 ensure a visa interview that usually lasts in the five-minute range. 

As most of you probably know, the “big three” are 1) bona fide student; 2) ability to pay; and 3) intent to return to Vietnam.  How does the consular officer determine this in a span of 3-5 minutes – on average?  Questions, documents, training (e.g, ability to “read” the applicant), experience and intuition.  If the answer is “no,” as it often is, the applicant learns about section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which states that

Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status…

In Vietnam the answer is “no” in over a third of all visa interviews conducted.  In FY 2010 the adjusted refusal rate for B (i.e., business/tourist) visas in Vietnam was 36.1%, according to travel.state.gov.  (The U.S. government does not release student visas refusal rates by country.)  In FY 2009 the worldwide refusal rate for student (F-1) visas was 31%, rounded up.  In FY 2010, according to a 2010 International Education Week statement by Assistant Secretary Janice Jacobs with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, it was 18%, the lowest since just before 9/11. 

In public PPT presentations to students and parents consular officers have said that in refusal cases, “the officer will do her or her best to explain the reason for the refusal and offer advice to the applicant.”   

The reality, however, based on abundant anecdotal evidence, is that this is not the case.  The most frequent explanation is merely a reinforcement of 214B, usually an example of stating the obvious:  I don’t think you’re a serious student, I have doubts about your ability to finance a U.S. education and/or  You haven’t convinced me that you will return back to Vietnam.

It makes perfect sense that students know why their visa application was rejected so they can prepare accordingly for the 2nd interview, should they decide to re-apply.  Without this knowledge it’s a guessing game – akin to shooting at a moving target in the dark.   An additional $140, another shot at the visa – without knowing what to do differently. 

Bonus item from Muttering Behind the Hardline – Rants of a Foreign Service Officer on the things that matter to you — and matter to you not a allThe Art of the Visa Adjudication.  (11 May 2009)

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