Visa Refusals Under INA §212(a)(4) For “Public Charge” Spiked in FY2018

In an April 24, 2019 meeting between the the Department of State and  the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the group asked the State Department/s Consular Affairs bureau about the public charge refusals for visa applicants.

AILA: Based on data provided by the Department of State, it appears that there were four times as many §212(a)(4) refusals in 2018 as compared to 2017. However, approximately the same proportion of initial refusals were overcome in both years. Thus, it appears that the total number of applicants unable to overcome the initial refusal rose significantly in 2018. Please confirm: a. Aside from guidance provided in the FAM, has State issued new or additional guidance in 2018 concerning how consular officers should evaluate eligibility under §212(a)(4)?

DOS: State hosted a series of webinars in 2018 and 2019 for consular officers reviewing the update to public charge eligibility, but other than the FAM update in 2018, there has been no additional formal guidance released on how to evaluate eligibility under §212(a)(4). b.

Visa applicants need to satisfy this provision of law by demonstrating proof of adequate financial support in the United States. A visa refusal, or ineligibility, under section 212(a)(4) of the INA means that the consular officer determined that the applicant is  likely to become a public charge in the United States. Public charge means that the consular officer determined that the applicant is  likely to become primarily dependent on the U.S. government for your existence and financial support in the United States. Most immigrant visa applicants are required to submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864, I-864A, I-864W, or I-864EZ, as applicable) from the U.S. sponsors who filed petitions for them. Some categories of immigrant visa applicants are not required to have Affidavits of Support. These are categories where no U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative filed a petition on your behalf, including most employment-based immigrants and diversity visa (DV) applicants.

Below are the number of visa refusals under the public charge grounds for FY2017 and FY2018:

click on image to see larger view

click on image to see larger view

 

 

In January 2018, the Department released an unclassified cable 18 STATE 942 January 4, 2018 with an Update to 9 FAM 302.8 Public Charge – INA 212(A)(4): Excerpt below with the relevant section.

3. INA 212(a)(4)(B) continues to provide that officers must take into account the totality of the alien’s circumstances at the time of visa application, including, at a minimum: (a) age, (b) health, (c) family status, (d) assets, resources, financial status, and (e) education and skills. As revised, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2) now includes detailed guidance to help officers assess these statutory factors when considering the totality of the applicant’s circumstances. For instance, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2)(f)(1)(b)(i) provides that an officer may consider “past or current receipt of public assistance of any type” in determining whether an applicant is likely to become a public charge, although officers must make a determination based on the present circumstances. Consequently, an applicant’s current receipt of public assistance may not raise significant future concerns, based on the totality of circumstances. For example, if the applicant just completed an educational degree and received a credible job offer, the applicant’s education and skills might provide a sufficient basis to find that the applicant overcomes any public charge ineligibility concerns in spite of current lack of assets. Alternatively, an applicant’s past receipt of public assistance could be very significant: for example, if the applicant’s spouse was the family’s primary income earner, but recently died. In this case, the applicant’s recent change in family status and likely change in financial status would weigh heavily in considering the totality of the circumstances.

4. Additionally, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(3), paragraph b, as revised provides that a “properly filed and sufficient, non-fraudulent” Affidavit of Support by itself may not satisfy the INA 212(a)(4) public charge requirement. The Affidavit of Support requirement at INA 213A and the public charge ineligibility at INA 212(a)(4) are distinct requirements which, where both are applicable, must both be satisfied. Accordingly, a properly filed and sufficient Affidavit of Support is essential, but does not preclude denial on public charge grounds. Officers should consider such affidavits as one factor in the totality of the applicant’s circumstances, and, may find the applicant is likely to become a public charge if, for example, the applicant is in very poor health, is unable to work, and is likely to incur significant medical costs. Similarly, if an applicant does not clearly overcome public charge concerns but could with a joint sponsor, then a consular officer’s evaluation of the likelihood the joint sponsor would voluntarily meet his or her financial obligations toward the applicant becomes vital to the adjudication. See 9 FAM 302.8- 2(B)(3)(b)(1)(b). 5. The updated guidance at 9 FAM 302.8 is effective immediately.

 

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U.S. to Invoke Visa Sanctions For Four Countries Unwilling to Accept Deported Nationals

Posted: 3:25 am ET
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We previously blogged about visa sanctions in early 2017 for countries who refused to accept their deported nationals (see On Invocation of Visa Sanctions For Countries Unwilling to Accept Their Deported Nationals. Also read @StateDept Notifies Foreign Countries of New Information Sharing Standards Required For U.S. Travel.

Note that the Trump Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States include section 12 on countries who refused to accepted their nationals who are subject to removal by the United States:

Sec. 12.  Recalcitrant Countries.  The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State shall cooperate to effectively implement the sanctions provided by section 243(d) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1253(d)), as appropriate.  The Secretary of State shall, to the maximum extent permitted by law, ensure that diplomatic efforts and negotiations with foreign states include as a condition precedent the acceptance by those foreign states of their nationals who are subject to removal from the United States.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that the Trump administration has now triggered visa sanctions against four countries that have refused to take back citizens the U.S. is trying to deport. The State Department confirmed the move according to the reporter but declined to name the specific countries.  The Washington Times citing “sources who tracked the deliberations in recent weeks” said that the four countries are Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

via travel.state.gov

 

Per 9 FAM. only one country, The Gambia, is currently subject to discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d).  With these additional four countries, this could be the start of utilizing visa sanctions to force countries to accept their deported nationals.  There are potentially 85 countries that could be subject to a visa sanction based on their refusal or lack or cooperation in accepting their own nationals deported from the United States.

According to DHS, as of May 2, 2016, ICE has found that there were 23 countries considered recalcitrant, including: Afghanistan, Algeria, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Zimbabwe.  DHS does not appear to have an updated public list or a full list online. In a July 2016 testimony, DHS also told Congress that within the last two fiscal years ICE has worked with the State Department to issue 17 Demarches to the following recalcitrant countries: Iraq, Algeria, Bangladesh, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cuba and St. Lucia.

DHS noted in 2016 that ICE was closely monitoring an additional 62 countries with strained cooperation, but which were not deemed recalcitrant.

We expect that the State Department will make a formal statement as it updates its guidance to its consular officials. The FAM guidance also says that a Public Notice of Discontinuation of Visa Issuance may be provided by flyers posted in the consular section and/or on the post’s website:  

During the period of discontinuation, posts should continue receiving and adjudicating cases; however, posts should explain the discontinuation of visas to all applicants covered by the order.  The explanation should note that visas cannot generally be issued for certain visa classifications or categories of applicants as determined by the Secretary’s order, and explain that visa fees will not be refunded, but that the cases will be reviewed again once visa issuance resumes.  The notification may be provided by flyers posted in the consular section and/or on the post’s website.”

Note that INA 243(d) discontinuation of visa issuance pertains to the actual issuance, not to adjudication. That means consular sections will continue to charge visa fees, will continue to adjudicate visa applications, but they will suspend issuance of visas to qualified applicants. And there will be no refunds.  That sounds like a recipe for a PR disaster.

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Trump EO Also Suspends Visa Interview Waivers – Expect Long Visa Wait Times, Again

Posted: 10:28 am  PT
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In 2012, then President Obama issued an Executive Order on Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness, which among other things, “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions”.  The Obama EO directed a plan that “should also identify other appropriate measures that will enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.” In 2012, an Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) was introduced for for low-risk visa applicants. It became was made permanent in 2014, and became the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP).

According to congressional testimonies, there are 222 visa-issuing embassies and consulates where “highly-trained corps of consular officers and support staff process millions of visa applications each year, facilitating legitimate travel while protecting our borders.”  In FY2015, overseas posts issued over 10.8 million nonimmigrant visas. That number is only a partial picture of the workload as it does not include visa refusals, a number that is significantly higher than visa issuances.

Section 8 of President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States refers to the immediate suspension of visa interview waivers specifically, the VIWP, and imposes a requirement that all nonimmigrant visa applicants, with exceptions, undergo in-person interviews.

Sec . 8 . Visa Interview Security

(a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

(b)  To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.

We understand that the current Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP) was “carefully crafted”, and rolled out in consultation with the Congress. It was designed not/not to go back to pre-911 situation but to facilitate travel in cases of no discernable risk.

Here is what the Consular Affairs bureau told Congress:

Since 9/11, a risk-based approach grounded on greater and more effective domestic and international information sharing has become a key principle of visa processing policy.  This approach enables the United States to channel more resources toward the prevention of high-risk travel while simultaneously increasing the number of legitimate visitors arriving by land, air, and sea.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prescreening process for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, international information sharing arrangements, Global Entry, which expedites the movement of low-risk, frequent travelers who proceed directly to automated kiosks upon arrival in the United States, and interagency counterterrorism and eligibility checks are examples of how U.S. agencies can use information collected from visitors and/or governments in advance of travel to accomplish complimentary and mutually re-enforcing goals of preventing terrorists and serious criminals from traveling to the United States while facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors.

We asked the State Department about the suspension of the VIWP and its impact on visa operations. We were interested in the number of applicants who used the Visa Interview Visa Program for the last fiscal year.  In trying to get a sense of the impact of the new EO on visa operations, we also were interested on number of consular officers in visa sections worldwide.

Our question is in general staffing terms not specific to any posts, nonetheless, a State Department official on background declined to discuss staffing levels or the number of officers working at any embassy or consulate.  However, the SDO  did provided the following information:

The Executive Order suspends previously authorized portions of the Interview Waiver Program. The Interview Waiver Program will continue for certain diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations (categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through -6, C-2 and C-3) applicants under the age of 14, or over the age of 79; and applicants who previously held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application. As always, a consular officer must require that any applicant appear for an in-person interview in any situation where information provided on the application or during the screening process indicates any reason for further questioning. All visa applications, including those cases above, for which the visa interview is waived, are subject to the same rigorous security screening.

Previously, applicants renewing their visas in the same category within 48 months of expiration were eligible for their interview to be waived, as were first-time Brazilian and Argentine applicants ages 14-15 and 66-79.

We don’t know what is the current number but in 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.

Background of the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP)

In January 2012, the Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the two-year Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) to streamline processing for low-risk visa applicants.  The worldwide pilot program allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who were previously interviewed and thoroughly screened in conjunction with a prior visa application, and who are renewing a previous visa within four years of its expiration.  The pilot program also allows consular officers to waive interviews for qualified Brazilian applicants falling into specific age ranges, even when applying for visas for the first time.

All IWPP applications are thoroughly reviewed by a commissioned consular officer, with the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and biodata undergoing extensive database checks.  Consular officers have been directed to require an interview for any applicant who might otherwise qualify for the IWPP, if the application is not immediately approvable upon paper review, including if database checks reveal potential grounds of inadmissibility or other possible concerns.  State concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

In 2013, State/CA’s congressional testimony indicates that “more than 90 percent of applicants worldwide were interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications.”  This includes key markets such as China where consular officers were able to keep interview wait times to an average of five days while managing an average annual workload increase of 23 percent over the past three years.  In Brazil, consular officers were able to bring down wait times by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days in September 2013, while also managing an eleven percent jump in annual workload between 2011 and 2013. These results were partially attributed to the VIWP:

The Department’s success is partially attributable to the introduction of secure, streamlined processes such as the Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP), which allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who are renewing their visas, and whose biometric data we have on file.  IWPP is operational at more than 90 visa processing posts in more than 50 countries, and consular officers have already waived interviews for more than 500,000 of these low-risk visa applicants.  The pilot has been particularly successful in China, where it constitutes 30 percent of Mission China’s visa renewal workload.  Of course, these applicants are subject to all of the security checks conducted for any interviewed applicant.  State also concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

One of the most effective ways we have to improve the efficiency of visa operations is to eliminate in-person interviews for low-risk travelers, while retaining all of the security checks that apply to every visa applicant.  Although the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires our consular officers to interview in-person all visa applicants aged 14 through 79, it also provides limited authority to waive interviews, including authority to waive for diplomatic and official applicants from foreign governments and for some repeat applicants.  We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Since the VIWP is available in China and India, and many other countries with high visa demand, and includes visitor/business (B1-B2) visas, student (F) visas, and temporary worker’s (H1-B) visas, the workload impact on consular sections will be significant.  As more applicants require interviews, more interview windows will be needed, more consular officers will be needed, and larger facilities would become necessary.

By shutting down the IVWP, the Trump EO immediately expands the number of applicants that require in-person interviews. Section 8 (b) of the Trump EO also “immediately expand” the Consular Fellows Program, while a separate EO imposed a federal hiring freeze. Even if hiring is allowed under the Consular Fellows program, training new limited noncareer employees cannot occur overnight.

According to CA official’s congressional testimony, in 2014, 75 million international visitors traveled to the United States, a seven percent increase over 2013; they spent over $220 billion.  “Tourism is America’s largest services export and one that can’t be outsourced.” See current key numbers on US tourism in infographic below.

In FY 2014, Consular Affairs also generated $3.6 billion in revenue, which supports all consular operations in the Department and provides border security-related funding to some interagency partners. The CA bureau is probably the only fully fee-funded operation in the State Department.  It collects and retains fees for certain visa and passport services pursuant to specific statutory authority.  According to congressional testimony, the current fee statutes allow the bureau to retain approximately 80 percent of the fees it collects, with the balance going to the Treasury, which then help fund 12 other arms of the USG supporting border protection/national security.

 

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