A long-time friend asked for a recommendation letter last week so she could apply for her U. S. visa. Reluctantly, this author agreed to provide the letter. She picked it up and nervously went off to her appointment that she scheduled months ago. Expats complain all the time about not being able to take their girlfriends or boyfriends home to visit because they cannot obtain a visa to the United States.
Some of the woes of people seeking U.S. visas were outlined in a 2007 article called “Evidence Burden on those seeking a U.S. visa.”
A single woman like my friend would generally have few chances of getting her visa approved. To my surprise, she called some hours later saying that she obtained a 10-year tourist visa with no trouble at all. The embassy officials proceeded correctly in granting her a visa, even though some of the paperwork she took with her was not very impressive: her bank account had only $200 in it, she reported that it receives a monthly balance of only $250, and she even forgot most of her payroll slips from her current job.
As surprising as it may have seemed, what got her a visa was arraigo, a Spanish word that means ties, roots, being established somewhere. It means living permanently somewhere with no probability of migrating to another country.
My friend is Panamanian. She could have moved back to Panama years ago to be with her family but instead, she settled in Costa Rica and made it her home. She painstakingly did all that was required get her Costa Rican residency and always kept it up-to-date, which has never been an easy task. We all know that the Costa Rican Immigration Office is still a quagmire with a bureaucratic inefficiency that surpasses many other governmental offices. Over the past couple of years, this office has had to grant extensions to people whose documents have expired due to its outrageous delays in processing paperwork. Another aspect that reflects arraigo is that my friend has a good employment history, working at very few jobs and keeping her positions for years.
Looking deeper into the facts of visa issuances versus denials, statistics show that in 2007 — the latest data available in Costa Rica — only 22.4% of the Costa Ricans who requested tourist visas at the U.S. Embassy were rejected, which means that 77.6% obtained the document with no problem. It is important to note that these statistics include only the visa types B1, B2, combination of B1/B2, business and, tourism. The 2007 data are even better than 2006’s visa refusal rates, in which 24.1% of the visa applicants were denied their documents. This difference shows an improvement of 1.7% in one year.
The refusal-rate statistics prior to 2006 are very difficult to find, and they were not recorded in nice neat tables like the current ones, since those numbers are buried among many other statistics.
Now a bit of fine print. The tables showing the refusal rates for 2006 and 2007 state that this “data must be read in conjunction with their explanatory notes.” The notes are fortunately not too cryptic, easily understandable by anyone interested in the visa program, and very insightful for those who have been denied a visa.
Because many expats would like to travel to the United States with their tico friends, if they go about this process the right way, proving true arraigo to Costa Rica, they have more than a 75 % chance to get a visa. Expats should also do their homework and ask their friends the right questions to see what their chances are of getting a tourist visa. The U.S. Embassy’s website provides excellent information regarding the visa process.
The only aspect Costa Ricans need to prove to the embassy officials is that their life is in their country, nowhere else. As stated in my 2007 article and on the Embassy’s web page, “Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the officer, at the time of the application for a visa… that he is entitled to nonimmigrant status . . . .” This statement could not be clearer.
There is one more thing expats should be wary about: they could get themselves into heaps of trouble if their friend can not qualify for a U.S. visa, which is the typical case of older expats with much younger friends.
To be fair, there are horror stories on both sides of the fence. People who should be able to qualify get rejected and many others who cannot possibly qualify get their visa. Everyone makes mistakes, even officials at the United States Embassy.
However, the right steps to take in case of a visa denial are also clearly explained on the embassy’s website. The page states that “If your application for a nonimmigrant visa has been refused, you will be told why at the interview and provided with a written explanation. The most common refusals are under Section 221(g) and Section 214(b) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act . . . Under Section 221(g) additional legal requirements must be met before the visa can be authorized.” Therefore, it is possible to reverse prior denials, after duly complying with the set of requirements that were not met previously.
All in all, it seems like the user-friendliness of the United States Embassy’s web page has greatly improved since 2007, especially the option users have now of printing and filling out the forms before their visa appointment. Most importantly, more and more Costa Ricans may now be able to visit the U.S. because if the State Department statistics are accurate, there is currently a decrease in visa denials and an increase in approvals.