Validate This: How Consular Officers Use Visa Refusals as Punishment

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As a follow up to yesterday’s post, refusal rates usually are inversely related to the economic development of a country:  the lower the level of economic development, the higher the refusal rate. Most African countries have higher refusal rates than more developed countries, such as China, Russia, and Kazakhstan.  But this does not always hold true. An example of this is the refusal rate of the US Embassy in Armenia.

While recently lowering its refusal rate, the refusal rate of the Embassy in Yerevan is still at 51%, a level higher than such countries as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Central African Republic, and Burkina Faso.  According to the Embassy, this is due to the results of a “validation study,” an analysis of how many Armenians overstay their visas or do not return to their home country.  The high level of overstays, according to the Embassy, justifies the high refusal rate.

As a general rule, embassies do not disclose overstay rates.  They view this information as “internal”: important for policy formulation and training.  Of course, it is also political – a reflection on the political, economic, and social situation in the home country. Finally, that information may serve as a source of embarrassment to consular staff: after all, consular officers are supposed to be “getting it right” when reviewing visa applications – screening out intending immigrants from legitimate temporary visitors. If 40% of a country’s US visa recipients do not return to their home country, that is a lot of mistaken judgment. While no one is a mind reader and intentions can change after arriving in the US, consular officers are nevertheless trained to distinguish between the “wheat” and the “chaff”.  A substantial overstay rate may lead officers to err on the side of caution and refuse applicants who should receive visas.

Related to this is the phenomenon of denying visas to family members of those who overstayed their visa or legally changed or adjusted their status.  For example, we are aware of situations where officers denied visa applications of parents seeking to visit their children and grandchildren in the US because their child arrived in the US on a student or exchange visa, married an American citizen, and adjusted their status to legal permanent resident, or the child obtained asylum status.  This, in the eyes of many officers is unacceptable, and so they visit the “sin” of the child on the parent by denying a visa to the person they can, the parent.

Of course, there may be situations where the relative applying for a visa does not meet the 214(b) burden, and the question may become one of credibility (“your brother didn’t come back, and I don’t think you will either”).  But too often 214(b) becomes the convenient pretext for being punitive rather than adjudicating an application objectively.  Punishment supplants dispassion.  Nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual will you find such a justification for denying a visa.  If you suspect this has happened to you or a relative or friend, please let us know. We would love to hear about your case.