The statistics stun – even the most callous observer. In just two years, the number of individuals denied immigrant visas under the public charge section of the law (Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act) has increased more than 12 times! Alien smuggling (Section 212(a)(6)(E)) findings doubled for immigrant visa applicants over the past year. Misrepresentation (Section 212(a)(6)(C)(i)) decisions for these applicants increased by more than 25%. 214(b) denials for those applying for nonimmigrant visas – more than 2.7 million – also edged upwards.
The Department of State’s statistics table lists more than 50 visa ineligibility grounds. But one is hard pressed to remember such a radical increase in denials for a single ineligibility as with the public charge provision over the past two years. Incredibly, this massive increase is not a result of any changes in or amendments to the law itself. This would take congressional action. Rather, the dramatic jump in public charge refusals has come about because of the Department of State’s reinterpretation of existing law and the extreme change in political environment, an environment that can only be characterized as a “Culture of No”. Most disconcerting of all, it would appear that these denials continue to grow at an exponential rate in 2019.
There is one silver lining. According to DOS statistics, approximately 60-65% of those subject to a public charge denial are able to overcome it. This is usually done with the assistance of a joint sponsor. However, consular officers are scrutinizing the joint sponsor closely: if he or she is a close relative of the family – not just a friend or acquaintance – then the affidavit of support is much more likely to be approved then if not. In any event, the potential legal consequences are significant because the joint sponsor is contractually obligated to reimburse the US government in the event the immigrant becomes a public charge.
The bottom line: the Department of State is denying thousands more immigrant visa applicants on public charge, misrepresentation, and alien smuggling grounds than in years past. Given the high stakes – in some cases, permanent bars to immigration – the best advice remains: consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before the visa interview, not after. In the words of Ben Franklin, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.