Denials of U.S. immigrant visas skyrocket after little-heralded rule change

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – When Arturo Balbino, a Texas construction worker, walked into his visa interview at the American consulate in the northern Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez in March, he wasn’t nervous. He felt good.

Balbino, a 33-year-old Mexican national who had entered the United States illegally 14 years ago, thought he had a strong case for a spousal visa: a wife and children who are U.S. citizens, a father-in-law who had pledged in an affidavit to financially support him if necessary, and a letter from his employer guaranteeing him an $18-per-hour job upon his return.

When he went for the interview, he was at the final step of legalizing his status, which would, he hoped, pave the way for a more stable life for himself and his family.

Instead, the consular officer denied his application on the grounds that he could become a drain on U.S. taxpayers by requiring government financial assistance, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

That decision stranded Balbino in Mexico indefinitely and upended his family’s life.

More and more aspiring immigrants – especially Mexicans – are being denied visas based on determinations by the U.S. State Department that they might become “public charges,” dependent on the government for support, according to official data and interviews with attorneys, immigrants and their family members.

Lawyers for some immigrants say consular officers are denying visas even when applicants fulfill legal requirements to prove they will be financially independent.

The refusals, capping an often complex and lengthy application process, can trap people for months or longer outside the United States, separated from American spouses and children, as they renew their efforts to legally return. Some may never be able to go back.

One reason for the rise in refusals are little-known changes last year in the State Department’s foreign affairs manual that gave diplomats wider discretion in deciding visa denials on public-charge grounds.

By Yeganeh Torbati, Kristina Cooke for REUTERS

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