December 7, 2009

Pregnant? No US visa

Camille Bethel

Monday, December 7th 2009

Non-immigrant visa officers working out of the United States Embassy in Port of Spain were being trained, up to February of this year, to refuse visas to certain groups of applicants.

Among those who had virtually no chance of getting a visa were pregnant women, women who already had a child in the US, and locals going to America for job training.

The actions of the US Embassy officials were illegal, according to an internal inspection done by the US State Department’s Office of the Inspector General. The visa officers were told to follow US visa application laws.

The investigation was done over a two-week period from late January. The inspection took place shortly after former US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Roy Austin completed his tenure.

The report, deemed ’sensitive but unclassified’, was published on the State Department’s website several months ago.

The embassy’s public affairs officer, Matthew Cassetta, told the Express that, since the report was written, State Department officials had visited and ’found that everything is functioning as it should in the consulate’.

The report detailed the daily operations of the embassy and commented on its strengths and weaknesses. The reported stated, ’Consular section management currently teaches non-immigrant visa officers to refuse visas to certain categories of applicants who should not be refused under visa law.’

It stated, ’Of special sensitivity are routine refusals for newly hired employees of known local and American companies going to the United States for training. These knee-jerk refusals have damaged relations with those companies, many of which do daily business with the embassy.’

The report found that consular management argued that applicants just out of school and/or starting first jobs ’are poor candidates for full-validity visas because they might leave those jobs and stay illegally in the US’.

’However, section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act clearly states that, ’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 non-immigrant status’, the investigators stated.

’Further,... if you determine an applicant is qualified under the law for a visa, that decision should apply to future trips as well. Suspicion that an alien, after admission, may be swayed to remain in the United States because of more favourable living conditions is not a sufficient ground to refuse a visa as long as the alien’s current intent is to return to a foreign residence,’ the report stated.

The inspectors stated that immigration officers should issue a visa based on an applicant’s travel intentions and not what the application might do in future.

Last week Cassetta responded to the report. He stated, ’As an internal document, the report speaks for itself and thus we must limit our comments. It is important to note that the section, of the report, on consular operations opens by stating that the embassy serves as a model for effective consular management.

’Consistent with policy, the embassy in Port of Spain and all diplomatic missions overseas are constantly reviewing procedures and practices to assure uniformity and fairness.’

He stated, ’Since the report was written, the embassy has been visited by several officials from the US State Department’s Consular Bureau. They have found that everything is functioning as it should in the consulate.’

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