Posted by Cedric M. Shen
It’s summertime and that means tens of thousands of people from all over the world are flying into the United States for vacation. Whether it be Disneyland in Southern California, the Statue of Liberty in New York, or the beaches of Miami, make no mistake - it’s tourist season. Most of us take for granted that visiting the United States is easy. Simply apply for a tourist (B) visa and you’re set! That is not always the case.
Section 214(b) of the INA 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 nonimmigrant status…” What this means is that the United States presumes that everybody entering the country is, by default, assumed to be coming for the purpose of immigrating here permanently. The burden is on the foreign citizen to demonstrate that he/she is only coming here for a short period of time and is thus entitled to a non-immigrant, visitor visa.
The burden is easier if you are some from countries than from others. For example, Canadian citizens usually get visitor visas much easier than citizens of India, Russia or China. Why is that? In most cases, the United States simply does not believe that citizens from these countries will return to their home country if granted a visitor visa to the United States. In fact, there are numerous instances in which citizens from countries such as China, Russia or India (just to name a few) obtain visitor visas to the United States, enter the country, and never return.
So what does a foreign citizen have to do to get a visitor visa to the United States? Procedurally, it is rather straightforward. Applicants must complete Form DS-160 online, make an appointment with the US embassy in their home country, bring appropriate documents, and be interviewed by an officer. However, in some countries the ability to meet the 214(b) test is some difficult that almost all applications are outright rejected because the officer does not believe that the individual will return home.
How do you prove that you will return to your home country? Unfortunately, there is no clearcut answer and the decision generally lies in the discretion of the interviewing officer. The general test is to show the officer that you have strong ties to your home country and that you have no reason to remain in the United States beyond the duration of your visit. So how do you show “strong ties”? There are several factors. Family is important. If you have a spouse, children, parents or siblings in your hometown, that would certainly help in showing that you will return to your home country. Other ties include employment, ownership of property or bank accounts. It also helps to provide a copy of the purchased round trip airfare. In short, the more you can show your ties to your home country, the better the chance of getting a visitor visa. It will also help the foreign citizen if the person(s) you are visiting in the United States provides a letter in support of your application. The letter should generally include a statement that the U.S. host has invited the foreign citizen to visit him/her, that the visit is for a fixed duration, and that the host is providing accommodations and expenses during the foreign citizen’s stay.
There is no magical formula to meeting the Section 214(b) burden. The more information you can provide, the better your chances. However, in some cases, denial may be likely no matter how much documentation you provide. Officers in countries such as India simply do not believe that these citizens will return upon the conclusion of their visa. While you are entitled to re-apply, chances are that an initial denial is not going to change upon re-application. In these cases, I would recommend that citizens of these countries find other ways to come to the United States. Such options may include studying in the U.S. (F visa), working in the U.S. (H-1B visa) or investing in the U.S. (EB-5 green card or E-2 visa).
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Posted by Cedric M. Shen
Foreign nationals must first have been a U.S. permanent resident for a certain period of time before being eligible for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. When a foreign citizen obtained permanent residency through marriage to a U.S. citizen, he/she can apply for naturalization three (3) years after becoming a permanent resident. When a foreign citizen obtained permanent residency through employment or though a family member, he/she can apply for naturalization five (5) years after becoming a permanent resident. If you were born in another country but you have a U.S. citizen parent, you may also qualify for U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
Continuous residence requirement
It is not enough that you are a permanent resident for three or five years before seeking U.S. citizenship. You must also satisfy a continuous residence requirement, which means that you have to physically reside within the U.S. for a certain period of time in the years prior to applying for citizenship. For green cards through marriage, the foreign citizen must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months (1.5 years) of the 3 years prior to applying for citizenship while on a green card. For green cards through employment or family, the foreign citizen must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months (2.5 years) of the 5 years prior to applying for citizenship while on a green card.
Generally, you should not leave the U.S. for a continuous period of more than six months. Doing so may break your continuous residence time unless you can demonstrate that you continue to work, reside, pay taxes and have ties to the U.S. If you leave the U.S. for a continuous period of one year or more, you may be deemed to have abandoned your permanent residency and lose your accumulated continuous residence time. If you plan to leave the U.S. for a year, but to return afterwards, it is recommended that you apply for a re-entry permit prior to your departure. This will show the government that you intend to return and that you do not intend to abandon your permanent residency status.
In addition to the physical presence requirement, foreign citizens must also reside in the state or district from which they are applying for at least three months before seeking U.S. citizenship. Applicants must also demonstrate good moral character, a good understanding of the English language, and a loyalty to support and to defend the U.S. Constitution.