The best thing to do is to know the rules. Getting a visa to visit the U.S. for business or pleasure can be difficult for some travelers. Before we get to the rules, the first issue is to verify whether your family member needs a visa. For those individuals who are nationals or citizens of Visa Waiver countries, a visa is not required in most cases and they can apply online under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The State Department provides a list of Visa Waiver countries and instructions. If your family member is not a national or a citizen of a Visa Waiver country, then she needs to request a visa from her local U.S. consulate.
Once you determine that she does need a visa, the greatest areas of concern that can arise during the interview generally fall into these 3 categories:
- Following the consulate’s instructions. Each consulate has its own rules about what is needed and when it is needed. For example, in some countries the applicant must be fingerprinted before the interview. In other countries, it may be at the time of the interview. Consulates can also ask your relative to provide additional information or documentation to convince them that she does not intend to remain in the U.S. or conduct activities in the U.S. that are not permitted. She should be prepared to bring all of her paperwork with her to the interview. However, the consulate has the discretion to require more proof. It is important to follow all instructions precisely; otherwise the application may be denied or delayed.
- Inaccurate, incomplete or false paperwork. During the interview the consular officer will go over her paperwork and ask her questions. If someone is helping your relative with her paperwork, she must review and understand what is being submitted on her behalf. Sometimes, clients who used notarios belatedly find out that they filed fraudulent paperwork on the day of the interview. Committing fraud is very serious and could make a person permanently ineligible for a visa to the U.S.
Your relative’s paperwork must provide honest and complete disclosure of any problematic information. For example, past criminal activity in the U.S. or in her home country must be disclosed, even if she believes it is a minor issue. For example, a number of clients get into trouble because they did not mention prior DWI convictions. Previous immigration violations, drug addiction, and certain health-related issues also are relevant to the application. Unfortunately, too often applicants do not realize they need to provide this information, or they think no one will find out. Immigration officials can and will find out.
- Establishing nonimmigrant intent. The consular officer will ask her to show proof of the reason for her travel. The officer is concerned that your relative might be traveling to the U.S. for some reason other than the one she has claimed (for example, to go to school or to remain in the U.S. permanently). To prove the trip is for business (in the case of a B-1/B-2 visa) or for pleasure, she must present documentation, such as:
- Employment verification letter indicating that she is traveling for business or for a vacation (depending on the visa type) or evidence of enrollment in school in her home country.
- Documents showing ownership of significant assets in her home country (for example, bank statements, real estate, etc.). This is relevant because she is less likely to leave behind sizable assets.
- Family information. If she is leaving behind close relatives (spouse, child, etc.), it seems more likely that she intends to return. The opposite is also true, so if she has close relatives in the U.S., the interviewer will probably ask for additional proof of intent to return home.
- In the case of a business trip, a detailed itinerary, contracts, invitation letters, agendas, business plans, payment and payroll records, and other relevant documents. (See Do’s and Don’ts for business visitors to the US)
Note #1 and #2 are applicable when applying for any type of a visa at the consulate.
So what are the dos and don’ts for successfully getting through the interview?
Do be prepared. Your relative should assemble her documents and bring them with her to the interview. She should be ready to answer questions about the purpose of her visit and show supporting documentation.
Don’t leave out any information from the application. Accurate and complete disclosure is essential.
Do consult a qualified attorney if your relative has any potential problems in her background. Ideally this should be done before applying for the visa. An attorney may be able to apply to get a waiver that would allow her to get a visa notwithstanding the particular issue. A waiver can be sought after she applies for the visa and it is denied. However, there is a danger that the applicant may not accurately disclose the problems, which will result in even more serious consequences.
Do make sure your relative understands the process and the risks of not following the rules.
Finally, having a visa or an approved ESTA does not guarantee an entry into the U.S. In a future blog will discuss inspection at the airport and dos and don’ts at the airport.
If you have any concerns about the application or interview process, please contact us.