Visa Trends – Higher Refusal Rates in 2015

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The Department of State recently published its 2015 refusal statistics for B visas.  Several countries exceed the 60% mark: Syria, Gambia, Federated States of Micronesia, Mauritania, Liberia, Laos, Haiti, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Cuba, and Afghanistan.  Among the most populous countries, the refusal rates greatly vary: China – 10.03%; India – 23.78%; Indonesia – 8.71%; Bangladesh – 59.96%; Pakistan – 40.4%; Nigeria – 32.56%; Russia – 10.24%; Philippines – 27.96%; Turkey – 13.88%; and Ukraine – 34.03%. These 2015 refusal rates represent an increase over 2014 for most of these populous countries: for example, the refusal rate for India jumped nearly 4%; in Turkey – more than 6%; in Ukraine – more than 6%; the Philippines – more than 3%; in Pakistan – more than 2%; in Russia – more than 2%; and China – 1%.

While on the surface these percentage increases may not seem significant, for these countries – with tens or hundreds of thousands of visa applicants – they translate in to thousands of additional refusals.   The increase can be chalked up to a number of factors, such as turmoil in a country (e.g., Ukraine); economic downturn (e.g., China); validation studies showing an increase in visa overstays from that country; or new consular personnel or policies at a particular post. Denial under Section 214(b) is far and away the most commonly-invoked legal basis for refusing these visas.

The refusal rate is important for a number of reasons. For example, if a country attains a 3% refusal rate it may be considered for participation in the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program allows for visa-free travel to the United States for business, tourism, and medical purposes for nationals of those countries accepted into the Program.  It is not only a matter of prestige, but a great boom to commercial and leisure travel.  Currently, there are 38 countries participating in the VWP. Based on the recently-released statistics, it does not appear that any of the countries listed above will be joining VWP anytime soon.