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U.S. Visa Denials, Refusals, Rejections, and Other Roadblocks

U.S. visa denials are rare, but they do happen. Regardless of where you are in the process of obtaining your U.S. work visa, it can be devastating to hear that it has been denied after all of the time, dedication, and money that goes into applying.

In this article, we will give you an overview of the process of obtaining a U.S. work visa, the different stages where denial is possible (but rare), and how you can improve your chances of approval.


What is a visa denial?

If your visa is denied, it is generally because something in your application or interview suggested that you were ineligible for the visa you applied for.

Denials look different at different stages of the visa process, and the impact depends on the reason for the denial.

Is there a difference between a visa denial, a visa refusal, and a visa rejection?

Visa denial and visa refusal are terms that can be used interchangeably. However, a visa rejection is different.

Visa petitions get rejected when there is a missing or incomplete form, insufficient application fees, or another administrative error that prevents the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer from being able to make an adjudication decision.

How do you determine why your visa was denied?

Most of the time, U.S. authorities will notify you of why your visa was denied and the associated section of U.S. law related to your denial.

You can find an overview of reasons for visa denials on the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Some of the possible reasons for a visa denial include:

Denial under section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act
This type of denial occurs when the Consul Officer believes you may intend to immigrate to the U.S. permanently.

Most U.S. work visas are nonimmigrant visas. To have a single-intent “nonimmigrant,” work visa approved, you must demonstrate that you only intend to stay in the U.S. temporarily and then will return to your home country.

Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act establishes that consular officers must first assume that every visa applicant intends to immigrate to the U.S. permanently unless the applicant proves otherwise. Because of this, it is important to clearly communicate and carry documentary proof that you only intend to stay in the U.S. temporarily anytime an immigration official asks.

Denial under section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act
This type of denial occurs when U.S. officials find you “inadmissible.” If you are found inadmissible, something you said or something from your background looks like a red flag.

There are many reasons for getting a denial under section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, such as having a health-related issue, a criminal record, or a history of immigration violations. We go into more detail on the various reasons here.

Refusal under section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act
This type of refusal occurs when a final decision cannot be determined immediately. Therefore, the Consular Officer puts your case on hold until your eligibility can be determined. This is known as “Administrative Processing.”

Suppose your application is placed in Administrative Processing. In that case, the Consulate needs additional time to review your application or additional documentation/information before they can issue your visa.

Learn more about what to do in this situation here.

The difference between USCIS denials, visa appointment denials, and border entry denials

There are three possible occasions where you could hit a roadblock during your path to entering the U.S. on a visa.

1. During the USCIS petition submission

When preparing your visa petition to be adjudicated by USCIS, you must include all the required documents and forms proving your eligibility for the visa category.

You must complete the petition, print it, and mail it to the correct USCIS address. If there is an administrative error, such as a missing form, or you mail the petition to the incorrect address, your visa petition may be rejected.

As mentioned above, a visa petition rejection is not a denial and has no negative impact on future visa petitions.

Reasons for USCIS denials
USCIS may deny your visa petition if they determine that you do not meet the qualifications for that visa. For example, if you applied for the O-1 visa with evidence that you meet four of eight criteria (you must meet at least three criteria). Still, the USCIS adjudicator is only convinced that you meet two criteria.

It is important to know that USCIS will never deny your petition immediately. Instead, they will offer you a second chance to prove that you meet the criteria by issuing a Request for Additional Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID).

RFEs are somewhat common, and NOIDs are much less common. However, they both allow you to strengthen your petition and give you your best shot at an approval.

If you receive a denial at this stage, you should work with a trusted attorney to prepare a new petition. Our team at Legalpad is here to help USCIS see your petition in a new light!

2. During the visa appointment

If you filed your petition from outside the U.S., you’ll need to attend a visa appointment before coming to the U.S. on your visa.

If you filed your petition inside the U.S. as a “Change of Status” petition, you’ll need to set up a visa appointment for the next time you travel outside the U.S.

Either way, there is the possibility of your visa being denied by the Consulate you visit for this appointment.

Reasons for visa appointment denials
The consular officer’s role in the visa process is to ensure that visa applicants are not subject to any grounds of inadmissibility, such as fraud or criminal convictions. There are many reasons why your visa could be denied at this stage.

To avoid a denial, preparing for your visa appointment is important. One way to prepare is to schedule a consultation with a trusted advisor who can help you prepare and avoid a denial.

Suppose you received a denial in the past. In that case, it is even more important to ensure that you have the information you need to avoid another denial, so setting up a consultation is something to consider seriously.

3. During entry into the U.S.

When you attempt to enter the U.S., CBP officials will look at your passport, U.S. visa (or ESTA), and any other immigration documents related to your visa, such as an approval notice (Form I-797), Form I-20 (for F-1 holders), or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 holders). They will ask you a few questions and review your immigration history.

Reasons for being denied entry
You could be denied entry into the U.S. by CBP officers. This could be for similar reasons as a denial at the U.S. consulate, such as inadmissibility, because of past immigration violations, or simply because you don’t have a valid passport with you.

Being denied entry is different than getting your visa denied. You still hold the visa; you just were denied the ability to enter the U.S. on that visa. If you get denied entry, you should contact your attorney for help.

What can you do if you receive a denial?

There are many reasons why your visa could be denied, and what to do next is dependent on the circumstances surrounding the denial.

In most cases, the best next step is to take what you learned from the denial and try again. Don’t get too discouraged by the denial, but certainly learn from the situation and assess any potential future impact that the denial might have.

For example, if you received a denial because the consular officer suspected you of fraud, that could impact future applications. On the other hand, if your visa was denied because you did not provide all of the required information, this should not negatively impact future applications.

If you’ve received a denial, we’re here to help

If USCIS denied your visa, Legalpad can help you file a new petition and improve your chances of approval. If you have an approved I-797 but were denied at a consulate, you should book another visa stamping appointment.

Legalpad partners with Argo, which offers one-on-one visa consultations with prior Visa Officers who can help you navigate prior denials and prepare for future visa stamping appointments (Legalpad customers can get a discount here).

A visa denial is not the end of your immigration journey; you don’t need to navigate it alone!

About the author:

Jemima Owen-Jones

Jemima helps international startups and their teams navigate the work visa process so they can get approved fast and focus on what they do best.