Part 3: (In)Voluntary Statements of Visa Applicants at the US Consular Posts in India – Are US Consular Officers Engaging in Unethical and Unlawful Conduct?

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So why don’t consular officers wish to give copies of these Voluntary Statements to visa applicants? Maybe because they are not so “voluntary” after all.

As explained to me by several visa applicants from India, they do not voluntarily provide these statements. Rather, they are bullied, coerced, and compelled to write the statements. Worse, consular staff dictate the text of the statement under threat of permanent bar from the United States.  Even worse, the statements often contain materially erroneous information.

One applicant said that US consular staff “threatened me that they will [b]an me from going back to USA if I don’t agree with their version of the story.”  Another stated: “At the end when she asked me to write down the statement, she especially [sic] dictated the whole thing to me.” Not only had this applicant been advised to indicate wrong information in her statement, but the officer attempted to ingratiate herself by saying that she was “only trying to help her.” One can guess the outcome: both of these applicants were permanently barred from the United States by consular staff.

Other applicants were advised: “Please co-operate and write as I say, otherwise it will make you permanently ineligible for the visa.” Consular staff then dictated the text of the statements for the applicants to sign. They too were permanently barred from the United States.

Another applicant told me that “every point” in the statements of him and his wife “were pretty much dictated.” Consular staff made them “twist the facts”, thereby incriminating themselves in a case of smuggling and misrepresentation. They were found permanently inadmissible to the United States.

This is disturbing, to say the least.  Consular staff are engaging in coercion and bullying and forcing applicants to write so-called “Voluntary Statements” against their will. Even more disturbing is the lack of legal mechanisms to address such behavior – with the Office of Inspector General having limited jurisdiction and appetite to deal with consular misconduct in the field; the Visa Office shrugging its collective shoulders at such allegations;[1] and top consular management at the posts in India “in” on the abuse.[2]

Well, you say, the visa applicants were probably “guilty”, that they got what was coming to them, that consular officers are trained to know when an applicant is lying.

In some cases – perhaps most of them – that is certainly true. We see that sometimes in the United States in the criminal context – where suspects sign on to “confessions” admitting their guilt under the pressure, influence, and coercion of police officers.  But what about other cases – where the visa applicant did not engage in the behavior he was being accused of and under the threat of permanent inadmissibility, he writes a text dictated to him and signs a Voluntary Statement, hoping that he will receive the visa.[3]

More alarmingly, what if the consular officer knows or has reason to know that the information contained in the Voluntary Statement – one that subjects the applicant to a permanent bar from the United States and criminal liability for making a false statement in an official, sworn document – is substantively and demonstrably erroneous? What consequences should befall that consular officer – and consular management privy to that demonstrably erroneous information – for not taking corrective measures?  That topic will be explored in the next article of this series.

[1] LegalNet, the Visa Office’s liaison with the public on legal issues relating to the adjudication of visa applications, has announced that it will “provide substantive responses only to the following categories of inquiries:

(1)  (U) Legal questions about a specific case when the applicant or representative has attempted to contact post at least twice without receiving a final response, and where 30 days have passed since the second inquiry (unless action is required sooner to avert significant harm to the applicant);(2)  (U) Legal questions about a specific case in which the applicant or representative has received a final response from post, but believes it to be wrong as a matter of law;(3)  (U) Legal questions about specific cases involving T visas, U visas, Diversity visas, or adoption visas; and(4)  (U) Legal questions about specific cases involving the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) or the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).” 9 FAM 103.4-2.

[2] For example, recent correspondence on such a matter by the author to Ed Kagan, Consul General in Mumbai, was ignored.

[3] Akin to a false confession in the criminal context.