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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Archive for March, 2012

The elusive tourist visa

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I am repeatedly surprised by stories of denials of B-2 tourist visas.

In one case I came across, the reasoning of the consular officers who repeatedly denied this application confounds me.

I heard about this case from my friend, a U.S. citizen originally from El Salvador.  She has invited her elderly father to come visit her and her family here in the United States.  He has applied for his tourist visa twice, and be denied twice, and the only reason given is “lack of sufficient ties to home country.”

Her father was turning 75, and for his 75th birthday my friend and her brother, also a U.S. citizen, wanted to take him on vacation in the U.S.  My friend’s father has been retired for several years now, and before that had been an assistant principal at a junior high school.  He was married and lived with his wife, my friend’s stepmother.  He had retired to the countryside and lived in what sounded like an idyllic little cottage.  His income was his pension; rental income from his house in the city, which he had rented out; and a little extra income from the produce that he and his wife grew in their orchards.  He is not wealthy, but he was comfortable.  All this information was presented at his second visa interview, along with a letter from my friend saying that she had invited him to come visit her, and she would be looking after him and, incidentally, she could petition for him if he wished but he did not wish it.

It is true.  If my friend, or her brother, wanted to, they could petition for this gentleman to immigrate to the United States as the father of a U.S. citizen and, barring any issues in his background such as certain criminal conduct, he could be here as a legal permanent resident in  six months to a year.  But this gentleman has no interest in living in the United States.  He is happy where he is and, at this late stage in his life, he is not interested in uprooting his comfortable situation to relocate to a new country.  He would like to visit his children and grandchildren in their homes, however.  Unfortunately, he has been denied the ability to do so.

Consular officers deciding tourist visa requests are tasked to keep in mind — through the guidance provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual — that the general policy of the United States is to encourage tourism and the building of cultural and economic ties with people from other countries.  So, the default position, when evaluating an application, should be:  Let this person come to the U.S. to see their friends and family, visit tourist destinations, and spend money on our economy.  It is only when the applicant fails to show strong ties to their home country, and thus by implication is more likely to want to stay in the U.S. rather than return home, that the possibility of denying the visa should be contemplated.

However, from my experience with contesting denials of B-2 visas, the default premise often seems to be opposite to that propounded by the Foreign Affairs Manual.  The thinking of too many consular officers seems to be:  “Prove to me why I should let you be a tourist in America,” rather than, “You should be a tourist unless there’s a good reason not to be.”

In this particular case, the denial of this gentleman’s tourist visa application was even more surprising because of his age, as most tourist visa denials seem to be to people who are young, single, not too well off, and who don’t yet have spouses or children to tie them to their home country.  The rationale for most denials seems to be that this young (or relatively young) single person without family obligations and/or a good job and/or very comfortable home to come back to will most likely overstay their visa and maybe marry a U.S. citizen as well.  Sometimes it seems like you have to be at least two out of the three:  older and married, older and wealthy, or maybe just wealthy, to pass the visa issuance test.

Even under this rubric, my friend’s father doesn’t fit in the mold because, although he is not wealthy, he is older and married.  The most reasonable explanation I can think of for the denial is that the consular officers both must have separately concluded that he is desperate to move to the United States, despite his age, comfortable retirement, happily married status, and the fact that he could legally move here without being put on a waiting list if he wanted to.  Why they could have reached such a conclusion is beyond me.  The end result, whatever the reasoning, is that my friend cannot host her father in return for all the times that her father and hosted her and her family in his home.  It saddens her, but she can always go and visit him, and spend her tourist dollars in El Salvador rather than have her father spend his tourist dollars here. The efforts of a qualified El Salvadoran immigration attorney may shed new light on the situation, but for now they’ll simply have to work with this arrangement.