by Brandon Gillin, Immigration Lawyer at Genesis Law Firm
Every time a foreign national applies for a visitor visa (commonly referred to as a “tourist visa”) to the United States, that person must overcome the presumption that their intention is to immigrate to the U.S.
This presumption is not always easy to overcome. Indeed, for some it is nearly impossible. Every applicant for a tourist visa to the U.S. must demonstrate the following five things:
1) The purpose of the applicant’s trip to the U.S. is only for one of the following:
a) Business (B-1 visa);
b) Pleasure, tourism or medical treatment (B-2 visa); or
c) A combination of the above (B-1/B-2);
2) The applicant plans to stay in the U.S. only for a specific, limited amount of time;
3) Evidence sufficient to convince the U.S. embassy or consulate issuing the visa that the applicant has the financial wherewithal to cover his/her expenses while in the U.S.;
4) Evidence sufficient to convince the U.S. embassy or consulate issuing the visa that the applicant has compelling social and economic ties abroad;
5) Proof that the applicant has a residence abroad, and that there are other ties abroad that bind the applicant to the point of insuring their return abroad at the end of their visit to the U.S.
How can an applicant definitively prove to the U.S. embassy or consulate that s/he meets the above requirements? The simple answer is that there is no one answer to this question. No list of documentation or evidentiary requirements exists. The U.S. Department of State states that “it is impossible specify the exact form the documentation should take since applicants’ circumstances vary greatly.”
There are, however, tried and true strategies to presenting an application for a tourist visa that have a high likelihood of ending in success. Follow the steps below to insure a high likelihood of success:
Step 1. Think about why you are going to visit the U.S. You will be creating a story for the visa officer (a true story, of course). The story will eventually come together as a clear, cohesive, and comprehensive set of facts that you will not soon forget. The story will prove beneficial to you when the time for your visa interview rolls around. Is your visit going to be for business, pleasure, or both? Be clear about the reason you are visiting. This will be the foundation of your story. For example, say to yourself, “I will be visiting the U.S. so I can see my friend. That must mean my trip is for pleasure. Okay, ‘pleasure’ is the foundation of my story.”
Step 2. Be absolutely sure about the timeframe of your visit to the U.S. Do not be in a situation where you would say something like, “I’m not really sure when I want to leave the U.S.” That situation would not be good for the story you are developing. Instead, pick a date. Pick two dates, in fact. Know your departure date and know your arrival date. Do not stray from these plans. Remember, the more confident you are in your answers to the visa officer, the more likely the visa officer will grant your tourist visa. Note that this does not mean you should go out and buy a nonrefundable roundtrip plane ticket to the U.S. That is something you can do after you have been granted your tourist visa. The visa officer will respect that.
Step 3. Obtain an invitation letter from the person with whom you will be staying in the U.S. Many tourist visa applicants stop at this step, evidently thinking something along the lines of, “The U.S. government will definitely believe my U.S. citizen friend!” Hardly. The U.S. government does give much credit to an invitation letter by itself. Still, get the letter. Have your friend write out a letter that indicates how s/he knows you, how long s/he has known you, where s/he lives, and the purpose of your trip. If possible, have your friend sign the letter in front of a notary public. Most banks will provide free notary services.
Step 4. Gather several months’ worth of past bank statements, which show an amount of money sufficient to sustain yourself while in the U.S. An amount equivalent to a few thousand dollars is likely sufficient. The important thing to remember here is that the visa officer is looking for consistency in your bank account balance. If the visa officer sees that you had little money over a span of a few months, but made a large deposit right before the visa interview, a red flag rises in the mind of the visa officer. Prepare for this in advance as you plan for your trip to the U.S.
Step 5. Recognize that your age may be either a blessing or a curse with regard to the likeliness of success in your visa interview. Very generally speaking, people in their early 20s are less likely to be granted a tourist visa than people in their late 60s. When in doubt about your intent to immigrate to the U.S., the visa officer will look at your history of travel. If your planned trip to the U.S. will be the first time you leave your country, you will face an uphill battle at the visa interview. If your plans entail visiting the U.S. five years from now, your best option will be to travel to as many other countries as you can manage before your trip to the U.S. In other words, fill up the pages of your passport with stamps and visas. This will show the visa officer that you are not the type to travel with the intent to immigrate.
Step 6. Remember your story? Now is the time to think about the next part of your story, which is why you want, indeed need, to return to your home country after visiting the U.S. Do you have children in your home country who rely on your support? Do you have parents who rely on your support? Do you own property that needs tending to? Do you have a job that you need to return to? These are the types of things you should focus on, and add to the list of facts in your story. Just telling the visa officer about these ties is not good enough; you will need to provide documentation to prove them.
Step 7. Your story should now be complete enough to practice in front of friends or family. Ask your mock interviewers to ask you tough questions about the purpose of your visit to the U.S. Get used to giving the answers, and make sure your answers do not differ from the story you have developed. With a little practice, your chances of being granted a tourist visa grow enormously.
Step 8. Talk to an immigration attorney licensed to practice law in the U.S. Many U.S. immigration attorneys use Skype to consult with overseas clients. An immigration attorney will supplement the suggestions given in this article, and can even help you prepare for your upcoming visa interview.
For more on tourist visas, click here.