U.S. Consulate Denied My Immigrant Visa: What Now?

If you applied for an immigrant visa and, despite getting the initial go-ahead when USCIS approved the initial petition by your employer or family sponsor, the U.S. consulate denied your visa, you're no doubt wondering, "Why?"

By , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

If you applied for an immigrant visa and, despite getting the initial go-ahead when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved the visa petition by your employer or family sponsor, the U.S. consulate denied your visa, you're no doubt wondering, "Why?"

In this article, we will outline the most likely reasons for this refusal to grant your visa and U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card), and provide information about what you can do to obtain the immigrant visa after all and come to the United States as a lawful permanent resident (a green card holder).

If USCIS Approved the Petition, Why Would the U.S. Consulate Deny the Visa?

It might seem strange that USCIS can approve an immigrant visa petition, only to have the consular officer deny the actual immigrant visa. But these two entities perform different functions in the immigration process. USCIS is the government agency that evaluates immigrant petitions and decides whether the beneficiary meets the basic qualifications for the immigrant category sought, for instance, that the foreign national has extraordinary ability, is a qualified religious worker, is an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, or something else. USCIS approval is a green light, to be sure; but it's based mostly on the relationship between the sponsor and immigrant, not on the individual immigrant's suitability for U.S. entry.

Once USCIS completes the petition approval process, the U.S. consulates are tasked with ensuring that all intending immigrants to the United States are admissible; that is, that they are not subject to any grounds of inadmissibility such as criminal convictions, terrorist activities, previous immigration fraud, and so on.

Main Reasons Why Consulates Deny Visas: Inadmissibility or Fraud

There are two main reasons why the consular officer may deny an immigrant visa:

  1. The officer finds the intending immigrant inadmissible, or
  2. The officer finds that USCIS made an error in approving the underlying immigrant petition, which contained a misrepresentation or instance of fraud.

A consular officer who denies an immigrant visa should provide with an explanation for the denial. (We emphasize the "should" because it's possible that the officer will not do so. In that case, you should contact the consulate and ask for an explanation.)

Immigrant Visa Denial Based on Inadmissibility

The grounds of inadmissibility outlined in § 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) or 8 U.S.C. § 1182 are the most common reasons why consular officers deny immigrant visas. These inadmissibility grounds include (but are not limited to):

  • multiple criminal convictions
  • terrorist activities
  • misrepresentation
  • unlawful presence, and
  • crime involving moral turpitude.

If the consular officer found you inadmissible under I.N.A. Section 212, you might have the option to file a waiver (request for legal forgiveness). If the waiver is approved, you will be permitted to reapply for your immigrant visa and the officer will not be able to deny it based upon the now-waived ground of inadmissibility.

Please note that no waiver is available for some inadmissibility grounds, such as terrorist activity or espionage.

Immigrant Visa Denial Based on Ineligibility Due to Fraud or Misrepresentation

Additionally, the U.S. consular officer can deny an immigrant visa after finding that USCIS erred in approving the underlying immigrant visa petition. Section 221(g) of the I.N.A. empowers consular officers to make this decision, and also allows them to ask USCIS to revoke its approval of a petition.

The Department of State (DOS) instructs its consular officers to not readjudicate petitions, but rather deny a visa only based upon Section 221(g) if the officer knows, or has reason to believe, that the petition approval was based upon fraud or misrepresentation. This burden is supposed to be high, to prevent consular officers from usurping USCIS's authority and second-guessing its approvals.

If your visa was denied based on Section 221(g), your best option is probably to have your U.S. petitioner refile the immigrant petition.

Be Extra Careful If Applying for an Inadmissibility Waiver

The process for applying for an inadmissibility waiver (most likely on Form I-601) is highly technical, and requires substantial supporting evidence. The majority of waivers may be used in conjunction with only one or two specific grounds of inadmissibility. If you are subject to multiple grounds of inadmissibility, you will likely need to file numerous waivers. Additionally, the logistics of waivers, that is, where to file, when to file, and their cost, vary greatly.

Seek Professional Legal Assistance

To avoid potential delays or other negative immigration implications, contact an immigration attorney specializing in the type of immigrant visa you applied for. The attorney can help analyze what went wrong the first time, prepare a new submission, and shepherd your case through the immigration bureaucracy.

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