With the upcoming September 2015 World Meeting of Families set to take place in Philadelphia, it will be the first (and likely last) time most Americans will be able to see Pope Francis.  Considering the excitement of the event, it is not uncommon that people wish to use this event to invite foreign relatives to the United States. Inviting relatives to visit the United States is not as simple as boarding a plane and passing through customs. A majority of foreign nationals need a tourist visa to travel to the United States. Only a small population of nationals from mostly European and a few South Asian countries may apply for a visa waiver program.[1]

Any person wishing to tour the United States must obtain a B2 Tourist Visa from a nearby American Embassy or Consulate. Generally, a foreigner submits an electronic application, pays the filing fee and schedules and attends an interview. Each Consulate may require additional local rules, so it is important to call or go to the consulate’s website beforehand. In addition, the interview and processing times vary from city to city. Some cities can see a B2 applicant interviewed and processed within a week; other countries require at least a month for each. Interview and processing times can be checked through the State Department website here.

Shortly after the interview, he or she will receive an approval or denial. Even with an approval, a tourist visa only guarantees a person is allowed to get to the United States. Once at Customs, depending on certain grounds of inadmissibility, entry may still be denied. There are many reasons why an otherwise eligible applicant’s tourist visa could be denied.  The application asks many questions regarding personal, criminal, previous immigration and familial information. A single mistake could result in a denial. Consider the following:

Luiz, a Brazilian national, applies for a tourist visa. On his application, Luiz lists his purpose as travel for two months, and lists a four-star hotel in New York City as his location. However, in reviewing his occupation, immigration officials notice he has a low to moderate income and little to no documents showing how he will pay and support himself in New York City. At his interview, Luiz is shocked to almost immediately be given a denial.

In this scenario, Luiz may have mistakenly forgotten to indicate that his parents were paying for his trip out as a gift for his recent graduation. He also may have forgotten to submit documents to support this. These documents could have included receipts, a letter from his parents’ credit card company confirming his authorization on their card and even affidavits from his parents. Unfortunately, he will have to apply again, hopefully in time for his travel.

However, most B2 Visas are denied because the applicant can’t prove he or she intends to enter and stay only as a visitor, with the intent to actually leave the United States sometime in the future. This requirement is mandated by immigration law and immigration officers must consider it when reviewing an application. The reason tourist visas are carefully scrutinized is because of the potential for abuse: anyone who could easily obtain a tourist visa could enter, overstay and remain in the United States illegally with little to no effort. Immigration officers have carefully selected ways of detecting who truly intends to enter as a visitor.  Consider the following:

Bo, a Chinese national, wants to travel to the west coast of the United States for a tour of national parks. Only wanting to visit a few big parks, but not knowing exactly which ones, she applies for a tourist visa for 2 weeks. Unlike Luiz, Bo submits B2 supplemental documentation that she believes proves she is only staying in the United States temporarily, and will actually leave: a letter from her employer granting vacation leave, bank accounts showing sufficient funds in Chinese banks, affidavits from her boyfriend, her apartment lease contract, and even submits proof that she has previously visited other countries’ national parks as a token of her hobby. After processing, her visa is approved.

Many tourist visas are used to visit relatives, and as a result, an applicant can’t provide receipts from hotels. In these situations, it may not be clear to immigration officials how a foreigner will support himself or herself while in the United States. In these situations, an applicant may need to dig deeper for documents from relatives or have his or her relatives submit an Affidavit of Support, which is an official immigration form. It is very important to prepare and file these documents truthfully and correctly, as a relative may be liable in the event a foreign national becomes a public charge.

If you reside in the United States and wish to invite a foreign relative to visit, including the upcoming Meeting of the Families event in Philadelphia, preparation and presentation is vital. In some cases, your relative may be ineligible to apply for a tourist visa based on a past immigration violation or current condition. In these cases, it is important to save time, money and effort by contacting an attorney beforehand for assistance. Call us today at (267) 388-3476 to inquire about obtaining a tourist visa for your loved ones.


[1] As of June 2015, these countries include only: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Irelan, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. See Here for more guidance.

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