Individuals who are applying for visas to enter the United States must go through consular processing at their local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
This process will include submitting paperwork about your medical history, the reason you want to travel, and other important information.
Additionally, you’ll have to attend an interview with a consular officer, who will ultimately determine whether or not to grant you a visa.
Throughout this process, the consular officer in charge of your case can choose to deny your visa for a wide variety of reasons.
Often, they will do so because you are either ineligible for your chosen visa, or inherently inadmissible due to restrictions outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
In this article, we will briefly outline what each of these terms mean, and provide six common examples of why a consular officer may deny your visa.
Basics of Visa Ineligibility and Inadmissibility
Despite the seemingly similar connotations, ineligibility and inadmissibility are incredibly different terms in immigration law.
Specifically, being found ineligible means that you failed to meet (or prove) certain requirements for the particular visa you’re applying for.
For example, a consular officer may find you ineligible if you:
- Fail to fully complete your application.
- Fail to establish your eligibility for a particular visa type (i.e. you are “ineligible” for that particular visa preference).
- Lack adequate financial support in the United States, and may require public assistance.
You can correct many of these grounds for ineligibility by simply fixing your application or applying for a temporary waiver for the specific reason you’re ineligible.
What Does “Inadmissible” Mean?
On the other hand, being found inadmissible is a serious problem that may sink your application altogether.
Individuals who are found to be inadmissible automatically become ineligible for entry into the United States.
If you are found to be inadmissible to the U.S., you may be eligible for a waiver.
However, due to the complexity of the situation, it’s highly recommended that you speak to an immigration attorney about your options.
The laws surrounding visa inadmissibility are outlined in 8 U.S.C. § 1182 (2019), which notes ten specific “grounds” (i.e. “reasons”) that an alien might be found inadmissible:
- Health-related grounds (such as lack of vaccinations)
- Criminal-related grounds (such as prior criminal convictions)
- Security-related grounds (such as suspected terrorist activity)
- “Public charge” (individuals who are reliant on the government for support)
- Lack of labor certification or qualification (inadmissible due to the various rules associated with work visas)
- Immigration violations (such as prior illegal entry into the country or misrepresenting facts on application materials)
- Immigration documentation problems (such as not having a passport or the correct paperwork when you arrive at a port of entry)
- Ineligibility for citizenship (“any immigrant who is permanently ineligible to citizenship is [by nature] inadmissible”)
- Prior removal orders (including deportation and unlawful presence bars)
- Miscellaneous reasons, such as practicing polygamy, unlawfully voting, or assisting with child abduction.
If a consular official finds you inadmissible, they will likely refer to one of these ten reasons in your denial letter.
Waivers of Ineligibility
If you are ineligible for a U.S. visa for one of the procedural reasons listed above, or are considered to be in one of the inadmissible categories, you may be able to apply for a waiver for that ground of ineligibility.
For example, individuals who accumulate too much unlawful presence in the United States, and are currently living outside the U.S., may be eligible for the I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, despite being inadmissible under conventional immigration laws.
In general, the reason you are ineligible or inadmissible is what determines whether you can apply for a waiver or not.
If you are denied a visa due to being ineligible for entry into the United States, you should speak with an experienced immigration attorney about your ineligibility as soon as possible.
6 Common Reasons for Visa Ineligibility
As noted above, consular officers can determine you to be ineligible for any number of reasons.
In general, the consular officer may deny your visa if either (1) you are found to be ineligible due to a lack of evidence or other procedural reason, or (2) you are found to be inadmissible due to one of the ten legally defined reasons for inadmissibility outlined in the INA.
We’ll further outline the six most common for visa denial reasons below.
Reason #1: Not Enough Information
A consular officer may choose to deny your visa application due to a lack of information.
Since the officer will only schedule your visa interview once they’ve received all of the necessary paperwork, this form of denial primarily means “we will not process your application any further unless you give us the information we need.”
Put another way, you simply didn’t provide enough proof for eligibility in your application to satisfy your consular officer.
Generally, this occurs when one of the following three facts are true:
- Your application is incomplete.
- The consular officer needs more documentation about your case or eligibility.
- Additional administrative processing is necessary before the officer makes their decision.
In each of these situations, the applicant will receive a letter stating (a) why the visa application was denied, and (b) the elements you’ll need to submit to continue your application.
For example, if you need to submit additional documentation, this letter will list the documents you’ll have to complete.
Reason #2: Ineligible for Visa Preference
Surprisingly, applying for the wrong type of visa is one of the most common reasons for ineligibility.
More often than not, this occurs when an individual applies for a non-immigrant visa that carries certain restrictions.
In short, this means that the individual applying for the visa did not do one or both of the following:
- The individual failed to sufficiently show that they qualified for the specified visa category.
- The individual failed to overcome the “presumption of immigrant intent.” This means that the applicant did not demonstrate a strong enough tie to their home country.
In general, correcting this ground for ineligibility can be as simple as submitting updated paperwork or applying for a different visa preference.
Reason #3: Inadmissible Due to a Criminal Record
Unlike the other two reasons explored so far, which are simple ineligibilities, having a criminal record is an inadmissibility issue.
Unlike the ineligibility categories noted above, you cannot simply reapply or submit additional information to get around this bar.
Instead, you must apply for and receive a waiver for the specific ground of inadmissibility in your case.
However, there are a few exceptions to this fact:
- If you committed the crime as a minor, and it’s been more than five years since you were released from prison, you may be able to get around this bar.
- If the maximum penalty for the crime did not exceed one year in jail, and your total sentence was less than six months, you may also be able to avoid this bar.
In this fashion, repeat offenders will face a serious uphill battle when applying for a visa.
As a general rule, you should always speak about your criminal record with your immigration attorney before applying for a visa or green card.
This is especially true if the crime was violent in nature, or if it occurred recently.
Reason #4: Inadmissible Due to Health-Related Issues
Some of the most common reasons for inadmissibility are health-related issues.
This includes a lack of vaccine information, currently being sick with a contagious disease, possessing any mental illness or disorder that may cause harm to others, and being a known drug user.
Unlike some of the other inadmissibility grounds, you can correct this issue by simply waiting to apply when you are no longer sick, or by updating your vaccination information.
Individual applicants can also obtain waivers in certain situations. However, this is generally uncommon.
Reason #5: Inadmissible Due to an Immigration Bar or Accumulated Unlawful Presence
In certain situations, you may be found inadmissible due to an “immigration bar” or due to accumulating too much unlawful presence in the United States.
For example, individuals who are deported are considered to be inadmissible for five years after their date of removal.
Similarly, accumulating between 180 and 364 days of unlawful presence in the United States will bar you from reentry for three years, while staying in the country unlawfully for a year or more will result in a 10-year bar.
There are many exceptions to the unlawful presence designation, including minors, asylees, and battered women and children.
In general, if you’ve ever been in the U.S. unlawfully for six months or more, or if you’ve been deported from the country, you’ll have to speak with an attorney about your options.
Reason #6: Inadmissible Due to Labor Qualifications
Another relatively common reason to be found inadmissible is due to having insufficient “labor qualifications.”
As specifically noted in the INA:
“Any alien who seeks to enter the United States for the purpose of performing skilled or unskilled labor is inadmissible, unless the Secretary of Labor has determined and certified that (I) there are not sufficient [American] workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available…to perform such labor, and (II) the employment of such alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States.”8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(5)(A)
In this fashion, any business that wants to hire a foreign alien must apply for a Permanent Labor Certification (PERM) for that alien through the U.S. Department of Labor.
In general, this inadmissibility factor only applies if your employer fails to properly petition for your entry to the United States.
You can find more information about this matter in the Labor Certification section of the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
A consular officer might deny your visa for a number of reasons.
However, contrary to popular belief, not all of these grounds for ineligibility mean that you are permanently barred from entering the United States.
Instead, you can solve most of these issues by either correcting your application paperwork or applying for a waiver of inadmissibility.
If a consular officer denies your visa application, you should make sure to carefully read and understand their letter of denial.
Better yet, you should take that letter to your attorney, who can help walk you through the process so that you can better understand your next steps.