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How changes in State Department rules impact visa applications

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people file applications to obtain United States visas. They gather their paperwork, line up jobs, and do everything they can to show they are set up for success. But, thanks to changes in the way the State Department reviews visa applications, obtaining a visa became more difficult in 2018.

State Department data shows a rise in visa denials

Current data from the U.S. Department of State’s National Foundation for American Policy shows a drop in the number of visas issued between 2017 and 2018. Last year, the State Department issued five percent fewer immigrant visas and seven percent fewer temporary non-immigrant visas.

Meanwhile, the number of denials skyrocketed. Forbes reported that the total number of immigrant visa applications deemed “ineligible” rose by thirty-nine percent. This left many visa applicants stuck outside of the country, wondering what to do next.

Why are more visa applications being denied?

The most likely explanation, surprisingly, is a change to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual – rather than a change in immigration law. Changes quietly made last year made it easier for diplomats in the United States to deny someone’s visa application on “public-charge” grounds.

If officials believe someone is likely to require government financial assistance “at any time after admission” to the U.S., their application can be denied. This broad discretion leaves much up to the imagination of the person reviewing the visa application.

Critics of the change say the State Department is using backdoor tactics. By changing the manual, the Department revised immigration policies without input from Congress. Plus, those reviewing applications could argue that nearly anyone is likely to need government assistance at some point in their lives.

Keeping an eye on policy development

Paying close attention to the State Department as well as immigration policies developing in Congress is essential to understanding the immigration process. Consult with a knowledgeable immigration attorney to learn how current policies might affect your visa application. 

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