Passports and Visas
State Department Changes Passport Rules in Response to High Demand
Washington, D.C. - Washington, D.C. - Today, the State Department, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, temporarily revised passport rules to accommodate US citizens traveling by air to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
According to the State Department:
"Due to delays in processing times for passport applications, the federal government is making an accommodation for air travel. U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda who have applied for but not yet received passports can temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application for a passport through Sept. 30, 2007."
The State Department's travel website, travel.state.gov has been updated to reflect this change. Constituents who are in the process of planning a trip overseas to the effected locations are strongly encouraged to visit the website for up-to-date information.
Constituents taking advantage of this new temporary exemption can print-out the online passport status check that may be accessed through http://travel.state.gov/passport. This status check can be used to prove that a passport application has been received by the State Department.
Passports are still required for people traveling outside of the newly exempted areas. Constituents should be aware that processing times for passports are still running at least 12 weeks. Expedited passports applications are taking lat least 3 weeks to be completed.
Constituents can call the National Passport Center at 1-877-487-2778 to get information on a passport application.
If travelers need help with their passports, timing remains extremely important. Congressman Shuster can help, but his office recommends that constituents contact him at least two weeks from their planned departure date. Congressman Shuster's district offices can be reached toll free at 1-800-854-3035.
The United States is an open society. Unlike many other countries, the United States does not impose internal controls on most visitors, such as registration with local authorities. In order to enjoy the privilege of unencumbered travel in the United States, aliens have a responsibility to prove they are going to return abroad before a visitor or student visa is issued. Our immigration law requires consular officers to view every visa applicant as an intending immigrant until the applicant proves otherwise.
WHAT IS SECTION 214(b)?
Section 214(b) is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It states:
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 nonimmigrant status...
To qualify for a visitor or student visa, an applicant must meet the requirements of sections 101(a)(15)(B) or (F) of the INA respectively. Failure to do so will result in a refusal of a visa under INA 214(b). The most frequent basis for such a refusal concerns the requirement that the prospective visitor or student possess a residence abroad he/she has no intention of abandoning. Applicants prove the existence of such residence by demonstrating that they have ties abroad that would compel them to leave the U.S. at the end of the temporary stay. The law places this burden of proof on the applicant.
Our consular officers have a difficult job. They must decide in a very short time if someone is qualified to receive a temporary visa. Most cases are decided after a brief interview and review of whatever evidence of ties an applicant presents.
WHAT CONSTITUTES "STRONG TIES"?
Strong ties differ from country to country, city to city, individual to individual. Some examples of ties can be a job, a house, a family, a bank account. "Ties" are the various aspects of your life that bind you to your country of residence: your possessions, employment, social and family relationships.
As a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, imagine your own ties in the United States. Would a consular office of a foreign country consider that you have a residence in the United States that you do not intend to abandon? It is likely that the answer would be "yes" if you have a job, a family, if you own or rent a house or apartment, or if you have other commitments that would require you to return to the United States at the conclusion of a visit abroad. Each person's situation is different.
Our consular officers are aware of this diversity. During the visa interview they look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors. In cases of younger applicants who may not have had an opportunity to form many ties, consular officers may look at the applicants specific intentions, family situations, and long-range plans and prospects within his or her country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.
IS A DENIAL UNDER SECTION 214(B) PERMANENT?
No. The consular officer will reconsider a case if an applicant can show further convincing evidence of ties outside the United States. Your friend, relative or student should contact the embassy or consulate to find out about reapplication procedures. Unfortunately, some applicants will not qualify for a nonimmigrant visa, regardless of how many times they reapply, until their personal, professional, and financial circumstances change considerably.
HOW CAN I HELP?
You may provide a letter of invitation or support. However, this cannot guarantee visa issuance to a foreign national friend, relative or student. Visa applicants must qualify for the visa according to their own circumstances, not on the basis of an American sponsor's assurance.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF AN AQUAINTANCE IS REFUSED A VISA UNDER 214(B) FOR LACK OF A RESIDENCE ABROAD?
First encourage your relative, friend or student to review carefully their situation and evaluate realistically their ties. You can suggest that they write down on paper what qualifying ties they think they have which may not have been evaluated at the time of their interview with the consular officer. Also, if they have been refused, they should review what documents were submitted for the consul to consider. Applicants refused visas under section 214(b) may reapply for a visa. When they do, they will have to show further evidence of their ties or how their circumstances have changed since the time of the original application. It may help to answer the following questions before reapplying: (1) Did I explain my situation accurately? (2) Did the consular officer overlook something? (3) Is there any additional information I can present to establish my residence and strong ties abroad?
Your acquaintances should also bear in mind that they will be charged a nonrefundable application fee each time they apply for a visa, regardless of whether a visa is issued.
WHO CAN INFLUENCE THE CONSULAR OFFICER TO REVERSE A DECISION?
Immigration law delegates the responsibility for issuance or refusal of visas to consular officers overseas. They have the final say on all visa cases. By regulation the U.S. Department of State has authority to review consular decisions, but this authority is limited to the interpretation of law, as contrasted to determinations of facts. The question at issue in such denials, whether an applicant possesses the required residence abroad, is a factual one. Therefore, it falls exclusively within the authority of consular officers at our Foreign Service posts to resolve. An applicant can influence the post to change a prior visa denial only through the presentation of new convincing evidence of strong ties.