Common Reasons for Visa Refusal or Visa Denial

A visa refusal or denial brings disappointment, frustration, and confusion over what to do next to enter the U.S. lawfully.

The U.S. Embassies and Consulates ultimately decide whether to grant you a nonimmigrant visa (e.g. B-1/B-2 visitor, F-1 student, H-1B temporary worker) or immigrant visa (e.g. family-based or employment-based) for admission to the United States. Proving you qualify for a visa is rarely easy.

Before you apply for a visa, it’s important to know the common reasons for a refusal or denial. They stem from the Immigration & Nationality Act, including sections 221(g)(lack of information or documents to show visa eligibility), 214(b)(failure to overcome presumption of immigrant intent in nonimmigrant visa cases) and 212(a)(inadmissibility grounds).

Soft refusal

1. Section 221(g) – Incomplete Application or Supporting Documentation

A visa refusal under section 221(g) of the INA means you did not present all the necessary information or documents for the consular officer to determine your visa eligibility. This is a soft refusal because you get the opportunity to correct the problem before a final decision is made.

In a 221(g) notice, you will be instructed on what additional evidence is needed and how to submit it. Examples include financial documents, affidavits of support, employment letter, and criminal records. If you do not submit the requested documents within one year, you will need to reapply for the visa and pay a new application fee.

You may also be informed that the Consulate will conduct further administrative processing of your application (e.g. security checks or further investigation by another agency such as USCIS) before it instructs you on next steps or issues a decision.  This can be triggered by database hits, fraud prevention unit investigations, alerts lists, and administrative errors.

Most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview, but the timing varies based on individual circumstances. For example, if the case is forwarded to USCIS or another agency for further review, this could take several months to complete.

When the documents submitted are not enough to overcome the 221(g) refusal or administrative processing reveals negative information that makes you inadmissible, your visa request will be denied.

Hard denial

2. Section 214(b) – Visa Qualifications and Immigrant Intent

Under section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a nonimmigrant is presumed to have immigrant intent, i.e. intent to remain permanently, rather than temporarily, in the United States. Nonimmigrant visa applicants (except for H-1B and L-1s) have the burden to overcome this presumption and prove they have no immigrant intent.

Section 214(b) denials apply only to nonimmigrant visa categories. For instance, B-1/B-2 visitor visa applicants must show they have strong ties to their home country, which they cannot abandon, and intend to visit the U.S. temporarily for business or pleasure. F-1 student visa applicants must further show they are qualified to pursue a full course of study, have the financial resources to pay tuition and living expenses, and intend to return to their country after completing their studies.

A 214(b) denial notice will state you have not demonstrated strong ties to your home country to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent and therefore do not meet the standards for a visa grant. The real, underlying reason, however, may be different.

Do you fit the profile of a person who tends to work in the U.S. without authorization or will likely overstay? Did you request a change of status from B-2 to F-1 during a previous trip to the U.S.? Have you ever entered the Diversity Visa lottery or had an I-130 immigrant petition filed on your behalf? Did you seem nervous during the visa interview? Did you give birth in the U.S. during a temporary visit? Do you make regular visits to the U.S. and stay for extended periods each time?

A consular officer’s doubts about your true intentions could lead to a 214(b) visa denial. It is often used as catch-all provision even when there is no valid reason to deny your visa application.

3. Section 212(a) – Inadmissibility Grounds

Section 212(a) of the INA lists the various grounds on which you are inadmissible to the U.S. (i.e. barred from entering the U.S. or from obtaining a visa).

Section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) of the INA states that you are permanently inadmissible if you, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seek to procure (or have sought to procure or have procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the U.S. or other immigration benefit.

Section 212(a)(6)(C)(ii) of the INA inflicts a permanent bar against you when it is determined that you made a false claim to U.S. citizenship to gain a benefit under U.S. immigration law, federal law or state law.

Section 212(a)(2) of the INA lists crime-related grounds that permanently bar you from entering the U.S. They include crimes involving moral turpitude (that do not qualify for the petty offense or youthful offender exception), controlled substance violations, multiple criminal convictions, and controlled substance trafficking (i.e. U.S. consular officer or U.S. government knows or has reason to believe you are a controlled substance trafficker).

Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) of the INA states the 3 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days, but less than one year, and then depart the U.S. The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S. in a single ongoing period or stay (i.e. continuous period of unlawful presence).

Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) of the INA states the 10 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for one year or more, and then depart the U.S. The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S., even if they were from different periods or stays (i.e. the aggregate period of unlawful presence).

Section 212(a)(9)(A)(i) of the INA states you have a five-year bar to reentry from the date of your removal if:

  • You were removed upon arrival in the U.S., i.e. ordered removed in an expedited removal proceeding by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at a U.S. port of entry.
  • You were placed in removal proceedings upon arrival in the U.S. and then ordered removed by an immigration judge as an arriving alien.

Section 212(a)(9)(A)(ii) of the INA states you have a 10-year bar to reentry from the date of your removal if:

  • You were ordered removed, other than as an arriving alien, including by an immigration judge in removal proceedings.
  • You failed to timely depart the U.S. under an order of voluntary departure issued by an immigration judge, causing the voluntary departure to be converted to a removal order.
  • You departed the U.S. willingly, but before removal proceedings were concluded.
  • You left the U.S. while a removal order was outstanding.

Section 212(a)(9)(A)(ii) of the INA states you have a 20-year bar to reentry from the date of your removal if you were ordered removed from the U.S. more than once, whether as an arriving alien or not. It permanently bars you from reentry from the date of your removal if you were convicted of an aggravated felony.

Section 212(a)(9)(C) of the INA states you are permanently barred if you reentered or attempted to reenter the U.S. illegally after you accrued more than one year of unlawful presence in the U.S. and left, or after you were ordered removed from the U.S. The permanent bar, due to illegal entry or attempted illegal entry, applies only if you accrued the (1+ year) unlawful presence or were ordered removed on or after April 1, 1997, or entered or attempt to reenter the U.S. unlawfully on or after April 1, 1997.

Notification of Visa Refusal or Denial

When a consular officer refuses or denies your visa request, you will be informed orally and given a written notice with boxes checked off from a boilerplate list of statutory law.

In both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases, the officer must provide timely, written notice of:

  • The provision(s) of law on which the refusal is based
  • Any waiver of inadmissibility available (when  212(a) ineligibility grounds apply)

In immigrant visa cases, the written notice should include the factual basis for the refusal (unless such information is classified) ). The consular officer should refer to pertinent written or oral statements of the applicant, a conviction, medical report, false document, previous refusal, or the like, as the basis of the refusal.  The officer is also instructed to explain the law simply and clearly.

In Kerry v. Din, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its June 15, 2015 decision stating consular officers need not provide the factual basis for an immigrant visa denial when terrorism or national security concerns are involved. In that case, a foreign national spouse was denied her immigrant visa based on an unexplained allegation that her Afghani, U.S. citizen husband (the I-130 petitioner) supported terrorism. The court ruled that in these circumstances, a consular officer may simply cite to the statutory law without providing specific reasons for the visa denial.

In nonimmigrant visa cases, the written notice rarely informs you of the specific facts on which the consular office relied to made the decision. Usually, it will only cite to the statute (law) under which your visa was denied. Therefore, it helps to listen closely to the consular officer’s oral notice.

Consult an immigration attorney with expertise in visa refusals and denials

To prevent or overcome a visa denial, you should seek guidance from an immigration attorney who deals with consular processing. A skilled attorney can evaluate your case to verify your visa eligibility, help you respond to a request for more documents, challenge erroneous inadmissibility findings, and file for any necessary and available waivers.

For more information, read our related article, Potential Solutions for Visa Refusal or Visa Denial.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: Chris Rimmer

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