(In)Voluntary Statements of Visa Applicants at US Consular Posts in India – Are US Consular Officers Engaging in Unethical and Unlawful Conduct?
Consular officers at the US Consulates and Embassy in India periodically require visa applicants to write “Voluntary Statements.” These Statements are used as admissions of guilt to deny and permanently bar visa applicants. But what is little known are the circumstances under which these “Voluntary Statements” are written – and the legal aspects of these Statements, some of which may in fact implicate consular officers themselves in potentially unethical and unlawful conduct. In this four-part series of articles, visa applicant and consular behavior, as well as the circumstances under which these Voluntary Statements are used, will be examined.
As background, to the personal knowledge of the author, the Embassy in New Delhi, the Consulate General in Hyderabad, and the Consulate General in Mumbai (under Consular Section Chief Michael Evans) have all used these Voluntary Statements against visa applicants in India. Peculiarly, it does not appear that consular officers at other posts outside India use these Voluntary Statements, and it is not altogether clear why only Indian visa applicants are being singled out.
For those unfamiliar with the Voluntary Statements, it is Form DS-5529 – with pre-printed text and space for the incorporation of the actual statement of the applicant. In Mumbai, the heading of the Form reads:
U.S. Department of State
Embassy of the United States of America Consular Section
Mumbai (Bombay), India
The preamble of the Voluntary Statement reads as follows:
I, [visa applicant], hereby make the following statement voluntarily to [name of US consular officer] who has identified himself/herself to me as an employee of the United States Department of State. I understand and agree that this statement may be used in an administrative or judicial proceeding, including a criminal proceeding, and that I may be identified in any such proceeding, and that I may be identified in any such proceeding as the person making the statement:
The standard form then provides space for the handwritten text of the Statement. At the end of the Statement, the pre-printed text then states:
I have read the above statement and it is true, and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief. I have initialed each page and have been given an opportunity to make any connections or additions. I have initialed each line where a correction has been made.
This statement is made by my own free will and accord without any promises of reward and without threats, force or coercion used against me. I have been advised and I understand that this statement may be used for or against me in a court of law or any proceeding deemed necessary by the United States Government.
I have been advised and also understand that the laws of the United States provide severe penalties for making a false statement, and that a person who knowingly and willfully makes a material false, fictitious or fraudulent statement shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $20,000 or imprisoned not more than 5 years or both (18 U.S.C. 1001).
The statement is then signed and dated by the visa applicant, with another line below for a witness signature. The pre-printed text then reads:
Consular Officer Statement
Subscribed to and sworn to before me this ___ day of ______, at __________
Witness (Consular Officer) _____________________________ [SEAL]
The consular officer then indicates the date and signs his/her name
Below the signature is space for a Translator Statement and signature if an interpreter was used.
The Voluntary Statement is typically used at the posts in India when a consular officer has identified some fraudulent behavior that the applicant has engaged in. To ensure no misunderstandings and memorialize the bad behavior, the consular officer has the applicant first admit in writing to the misconduct and then hands down a consequent denial decision: for example, a Section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) finding of a willful, material misrepresentation or a Section 212(a)(6)(E) alien smuggling determination. The misrepresentation determination may arise in a myriad of situations, such as an applicant presenting false information about his job or marital status in making a visitor visa application, or providing misleading documentation regarding his ability to pay for his tuition or acceptance to a US university in a student visa application. For an alien smuggling finding, an immigrant visa parent applicant may misrepresent the age or marital status of his or her child, or an employment visa applicant may misrepresent his marital status to obtain an accompanying visa for a significant other who is not his spouse.
These are typical, garden-variety situations in which the consul may proffer the Voluntary Statement and have the offending party write a statement and sign. But what happens when the situation is…more complicated?
 There is no listing for this form among the forms on the Department of State’s website – https://eforms.state.gov/ Given the poor quality of the boilerplate forms used, it appears that consular officers in India have been making copies of copies of the form.