Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act
In 2011 and 2012, more than 2.5 million nonimmigrant visa applicants were denied under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. US law places the burden on nonimmigrant visa applicants (except for H-1B and L-1s) to show that they are not intending immigrants. Nonimmigrant visitor visa applicants (B) must show that they have a foreign residence that they have no intention of abandoning and are visiting the US temporarily for business or pleasure. Student visa applicants (F) have the additional burden of showing they have the qualifications necessary to pursue a full course of study and the intent to return to their home country upon the completion of their studies.
Applicants refused nonimmigrant visas are handed standard rejection letters stating that the reason they were denied is because they lack strong ties to their home countries and do not meet the standards for issuance of the visa. In fact, the actual reasons for the denial vary greatly. As is often the case, the actual reason may not be a legitimate, valid reason. Over the course of many years, we have compiled a list of actual reasons used by consular officers to deny applicants under Section 214(b). The most popular are:
1. Limited ties to home country. These are individuals who are young, unemployed or have a low- paying or new job; have no children; are not married; live in rural areas; and/or own no property or assets.
2. Interview problems. The importance of the interview cannot be underestimated. How the applicant conducts himself; his honesty in answering questions; how he is dressed; reactions; facial expressions; eye contact; hesitation in answering questions; discrepancies in answers to questions and information contained in the application form; nervousness — all go into weighing the applicant’s intentions, credibility, and eligibility for a visa.
3. Inaccurate consular understanding of facts or law. Consular mistakes in the review of visa applications are manifold. Officers have limited time and resources; are often deficient in the local language; and are inadequately trained in a very complicated area of the law.
4. Fit overstay profile. If the applicant matches a profile that validation studies have shown tend to overstay visas, the applicant is likely to be denied. For example, during the late 1990s, Russians would buy timeshares in the US and use that as a pretext to visit the US. When several individuals did not return to Russia, the Embassy clamped down on such applicants, with both legitimate and not-so-legitimate timeshare owners paying the price with a 214(b) denial.
5. Numerous, long-term visits to the US/extending status while in the US. A consular officer may believe that:
1. the applicant is no longer residing in his home country;
2. may be engaging in unauthorized employment in the US;
3. and/or not in the appropriate visa status.
It is usually the case where the applicant indicated a brief planned visit to the US in the initial application. By staying for a prolonged period of time and indicating a short planned visit in the subsequent application, the issue becomes one of credibility more than the above-mentioned factors. This problem frequently arises for grandmothers and grandfathers who spent substantial time in the US visiting and helping out with a newly-born grandchild and are denied visas because they have spent too long, in the opinion of the consular officer, in the US.
6. Indicating a prolonged visit in application. A Catch-22 situation arises when an applicant indicates an intended prolonged visit in the initial application. In the above situation, the applicant received the initial visa by not being truthful and later paying the price; conversely, indicating the truth in the initial application may prompt a 214(b) denial.
7. Change of status in the US. Notwithstanding USCIS approval of a change of status, a person returning to his home country to receive a new visa after changing status often is denied a visa. A consular official may feel deceived, that the applicant’s true intent at the time of the first application was to change status. For example, the applicant stated that he planned to visit the US for tourism purposes and then upon arrival, changed his status to H-1B.
8. Student-specific problems. Consular officers often deny students because
1. of planned enrollment in a community college or a “non-brand name” university;
2. lack of adult-like economic ties to their home country;
3. enrollment in perceived non-career enhancement courses (e.g., a writer who enrolls in a business management program);
4. enrollment in a program with little practicality in the home country;
5. applications of older students (over the age of 30);
6. and a perceived poor track record while in the States (e.g., poor grades or poor attendance on an initial F-1 visa;
7. inadequate progress in the English language while located in the US for a summer work-travel program).
9. “Hostage” situation. A family member may be denied if traveling together with the rest of the family. For example, a college student who applied together with his parents to attend his K-1 sister’s wedding in the United States was denied a visa — “held hostage” in his home country — while his parents were issued visas.
10. Other relatives who previously emigrated. This category of applicants with relatives in the US may be denied for a couple of reasons:
1. the fact that an individual has a close relative in the US may be a negative consideration because it would be easier for the applicant to settle in the US;
2. if the relative in the US obtained status in a manner objectionable to a consular officer (e.g., B to asylum), the officer may find the applicant less trustworthy or simply punish the applicant for the perceived transgression by the relative in the US.
Consular officers often ask in what status did the relative arrive in the US and legalize his status. Even a benign situation where an individual on a J Summer Work and Travel visa meets, falls in love with, and plans to marry an American citizen can lead to a visa denial for the parents to attend the wedding. There also does not appear to be a “statute of limitations” on this line of inquiry: a person with a green card for several years still may be the target of consular wrath and the applicant left to suffer the consequences.
11. Pending or previously denied immigrant petition/application. Immigrant visa registration is usually treated as a “no-brainer” by consular officers: registration to immigrate is tantamount to an intent to immigrate.
12. Submission of a DV Lottery entry. While most consular officers do not give weight to the mere submission of an entry in the Lottery, there are some that do. For example, the Embassy in Ukraine’s website states: “Although participation in the DV lottery does not disqualify one for a tourist or any other visa, it does indicate a desire to immigrate to the US, which is a factor in evaluating one’s ties to Ukraine.” Of course, if an alien is selected as a “winner” of the Lottery and she submits an immigrant visa application, then she will be considered to have shown immigrant intent and obtaining an NIV during the pendency of the immigrant process or after IV denial will be problematic.
13. Applicant suspected of fraud. A consular officer may have a strong suspicion that a document (employment reference, bank statement) submitted is fraudulent, but does not have the time or resources to investigate. It is easier to just deny the application under 214(b) than to pursue a 212(a)(6)© finding.
14. Lack of travel to Europe. In some consulates, holding a UK or Schengen visa may be deemed a prerequisite to “graduating” to an American visa. Such travel to Europe may reflect the availability of discretionary income; a return to the home country after having the opportunity to stay in a European country may evidence ties to the home country. Travel to beach resorts such as Thailand or Cyprus may not address this second concern because an individual would be less likely to live and work in that beach resort country.
15. Previous denial/Lack of change in circumstances since previous denial. Consular officers often reflexively defer to a previous denial, citing to a lack of change in circumstances. Obviously, there may be personal or political considerations as well. This may occur even if an applicant is re-applying within days of the original approval, presenting new evidence. “What has changed since your last application?” is a common initial question. A widespread myth among applicants is that if they change the purpose of their trip — instead of going to visit Disneyworld, they decide to enroll in an ESL program — they will increase their chances of obtaining a visa. In doing so, they are of course digging their own visa “grave” deeper, exhibiting desperation, which may reflect on their ability to get a visa for years to come.
16. Application at a non-home post/re-application at new post after denied at a different consulate (“Post-shopping”). An application at a non-home post may arouse suspicions that the applicant has attempted to circumvent the home post. For example, the home post may have a bad reputation among visa applicants, and a third country post may be viewed as more amenable to favorable review. The applicant who engages in the “post shopping” may attempt an application at the “favorable” post, only to have the application formally denied with a referral back to his home post. Similarly, an application at a different consulate after a refusal is more than likely doomed to failure.
17. Guilt by association. An officer may deny every individual in a group because of the misdeeds of one or two individuals. For example, if an unrelated individual’s application is surreptitiously included in a baseball team’s group submission by the organizers, and the officer becomes aware of this, all members of the baseball team and its group may be denied.
18. Inadequate finances to support the purpose of the trip. If the purpose of the trip is medical, then the applicant should have the financial wherewithal to pay the bills, either personally or have the support of a sponsor. An applicant in need of the medical treatment who opens a bank account immediately before submitting his visa application and places funds on the account may arouse suspicion that the funds are not his. Similarly, an affidavit of support from a non-relative submitted as a part of a student visa application may elicit a 214(b) finding because the officer may question the intention of the sponsor.
19. Spouses/Children of F-1 Student. It is not uncommon for spouses and children to be denied where 214(b) is an issue, such as spouses and children of students who are located in the United States.
20. Intent to visit the US to give birth in B status. The attraction for foreigners is obvious: to secure US citizenship for their soon-to-be-born child. While this activity is not specifically prohibited or permitted under regulations, the overwhelming majority of officers will not issue a visa to an expecting mother.
21. Applicant previously gave birth in the US on a B visa. This issue has several fact-based mutations:
1. at time of initial application for a B visa, the applicant was pregnant;
2. at time of initial application for a B visa, applicant was not pregnant;
3. applicant failed to pay the hospital bills associated with the birth.
If at the time of the initial application the applicant was not pregnant and during the course of the validity of the visa gave birth in the US, this is less likely to be considered as a negative factor when reviewing the application. If the applicant was pregnant at the time of initial application and was not honest in disclosing the reason for going to the US, this may be held against the applicant upon subsequent application in the form of a 214(b) denial. This is particularly true if the applicant did not pay the hospital bills. In one case, it was only after 15 years, eight 214(b) refusals, and a donation to the hospital that delivered the baby that an applicant was able to obtain a visa.
22. Suspicious-looking invitations. Inviting parties with little or no connection to the applicant may arouse suspicion about the legitimacy of the trip. Invitations in very general language or in poor English may also trigger a 214(b) finding. Inviting parties or invitations certified by notaries in the post’s “black list” will also lead to a 214(b) (or 212(a)(6)©) finding. Knowledge of a bogus support letter, for example, will be imputed to the applicant and usually lead to a 212(a)(6)© decision.
23. Get-acquainted trip to see significant other. Invitations from Americans to their romantic interests often lead to denials. There does not seem to be regard for the stage of the relationship, whether the couple met last week over the Internet or have known each other for years and met each other in the applicant’s home country or in third countries. Usually, little regard is given to the applicant’s ties. There seems to be an assumption that the applicant will do anything to get out of her home country; that the American is her “ticket out”; and that the parties will marry upon her arrival in the States.
24. Failure to comply with a post’s specific application requirements. Some posts may require original documents, such as bank statements, tax returns stamped by the tax inspectorate, or previous international passports. Some of the requirements may seem hyper-technical or irrelevant, but they are often prompted by high fraud rates. Thus, failure to adhere to the requirements may lead to a denial.
25. Failure to meet the criteria for issuance of a work visa. The temporary employment visa requirements can be technical, and an applicant failure to meet the requirements may lead to a denial.
26. Real estate ownership in the US. Those who own real estate in the US may be viewed as a heightened risk to stay in the US.
27. 2-time participants in the Summer Work Travel Program. They may have difficulty obtaining a visa to visit friends because they are perceived as already having established ties to the United States.
28. Elderly applicants. They may be viewed as more likely to become a public charge or tempted to retire in the US.
29. Previous contact with police. An individual with an arrest record not rising to the level of 212(a)(2)(A) (e.g., a shoplifting conviction and two shoplifting arrests) may be considered a danger to engage in criminal behavior in the US.
30. Pending immigrant applications to another country. If an individual is in the process of immigrating to another Western country, for example, Canada, and applies for a visitors visa, he may be deemed to be a danger of remaining in the US.
The elasticity of Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act is truly a unique phenomenon in immigration law. As noted, many of these reasons are not valid reasons, and in fact, are specifically prohibited by Department of State regulations. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the consular officer’s rationale for the refusal, and when appropriate, challenge it. Failure to do so — silence — is viewed as agreement with the decision.