Monday, July 21, 2008

US Consulate in Chengdu and Non-Immigrant Visas

Before I start ranting, here is the Customer Service Statement for Visa Applicants from the U.S. Department of State. A couple of points:
• We will treat you with dignity and respect, even if we are unable to grant you a visa.
• We will treat you as an individual and your case as unique.
• We will use the limited time available for the interview to get as full a picture as possible of your travel plans and intentions.
• We will post detailed and accurate information on visa requirements and application procedures on every Embassy and Consulate website.
• We will explain the reason for any visa denial to you.

Sounds good, right? Well, here's the reality. Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states:
Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status...

Pretty harsh... but okay, if someone applies for a non-immigrant visa, their intention should not be immigration to the U.S. Essentially, they assume you're lying about the visa application unless you can convince them otherwise; sorta like guilty until proven innocent. The Consulate website even lists items to bring to establish your connection to your home country so you will return after your trip to the U.S.

So yesterday morning, my friend in Chengdu went to apply for a tourist visa. The cost of the visa application was RMB943 plus a RMB54 toll call to set up an appointment time. For perspective, the rent for a decent sized studio apartment is about RMB1,200/month. In addition, it took weeks to gather all the documentation and fill out forms in English. Since I agreed to be the sponsor/invite person, I had to send over copies of my passport, tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and even work verification. With all this documentation in hand, my friend was asked several general questions (when, how long, and who you're visiting in the U.S.) and rejected in less than 60 seconds. They didn't even look at any supporting documents. In addition, the interviewing officer said that they don't give reasons for the rejection other than you did not satisfy Section 214(b). There were probably hundreds of applicants "interviewing" at service windows and my friend's experience was the norm. It reminds me of the Capital One commercials with David Spade yelling "NO!" to everything.

Wow, even without the "Customer Service Statement" PR bullshit, you would expect more consideration for US$130. It's pretty pathetic if the U.S. government can't even follow their own minimal commitment for a fair visa application interview. Of course I understand that there are rules and not everyone can get a visa, but at least take a look at the documents you requested from the applicants. I sent an email to the Consul General in Chengdu (James Boughner) about the apparent failure to observe their own guidelines but my expectations for a response is pretty low.

The Consulate has some "helpful" tips on what to do if the application is denied:
First encourage your relative, friend or student to review carefully their situation and evaluate realistically their ties. You can suggest that they write down on paper what qualifying ties they think they have which may not have been evaluated at the time of their interview with the consular officer. Also, if they have been refused, they should review what documents were submitted for the consul to consider. Applicants refused visas under section 214(b) may reapply for a visa. When they do, they will have to show further evidence of their ties or how their circumstances have changed since the time of the original application. It may help to answer the following questions before reapplying: (1) Did I explain my situation accurately? (2) Did the consular officer overlook something? (3) Is there any additional information I can present to establish my residence and strong ties abroad?

Your acquaintances should also bear in mind that they will be charged a nonrefundable application fee each time they apply for a visa, regardless of whether a visa is issued.

Hmm, but if they don't even look at any of the evidence and don't let you speak, what's the point of throwing more money at them? Charging US$130 for ~1 minute of time is a pretty lucrative business. If the U.S. government is so worried about people overstaying their visas, why not track visitors better like they do in every other country. Instead, they reject legitimate visitors yet roll out the red carpet for illegal immigrants. I told my friend (half-jokingly) to get a visa for Mexico and walk over the border to San Diego.

BTW, my friend also checked with several travel agencies. They said that for ~RMB20,000 (~US$2,800), they can "get" a U.S. visa. That puts the high rate of visa rejections in a whole different perspective.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's the same situation we met in Chengdu. The Officer didn't even look at us when we greeted him. And he just rejected us in 1 min without looking at our documents that we wanted to show him. He didn't show the basic respect to us.