Marian was a frequent visitor to the United States, usually staying no longer than one month. But in 2008, a former classmate in high school influenced Marian to stay longer. Marian filed for an extension of her six-month visitor’s visa.
Three months after filing the application, Marian unfortunately received a denial of her request for an extension of stay. She left the US a week after receiving the denial notice. In 2009, Marian returned to the US again but this time she was denied entry by the inspector at the airport. She was forced to return on the next flight back to Manila. Since that traumatic experience, Marian has not attempted to return to the US.
Last week, Marian heard about the US Embassy’s new Visa Re-issuance Program (VRP), a procedure that processes visas without need for an interview. Her visa expired in December 2010 and she wants to know if she can renew her visa under the new program.
Many years back, the nonimmigrant visa unit of the US Embassy in Manila had a process of renewing expiring non-immigrant visas through a process known as “dropbox.” This process did not require an interview. Later, because of the heightened security requirements on all visa applicants plus the fact that Manila was classified as a “high-fraud” post, this practice of “dropboxing” was suspended.
The new Visa Re-issuance Program (VRP) is somewhat similar to the former process of “dropboxing” to renew the visas. But it is also different in many ways.
Renewing under the VRP
The VRP expedites visa renewals for Filipino applicants who have previously been issued multiple entry (B1/B2 tourist) visas to the United States valid for five or 10 years. This is great news for qualified Philippine applicants because these applicants will be given priority appointment dates. An interview with a consular officer will not normally be needed. Applicants will only need to pay the regular visa fee of $140, submit Form DS-160 with their valid passport and two photos, and then schedule a VRP appointment. After the appointment, where their applications will be screened and their fingerprints taken, applicants can expect to receive their passport with a new US visa within one week.
The consular officer still reserves the right to interview an applicant. This means that not all those taking advantage of the VRP will be relieved of the regular interview process. If the consular officer decides to interview, the applicant will be contacted two days prior to the appointment date.
Past visa violations
The consular guidance provides eligibility requirements in the form of questions. An applicant for re-issuance must answer “yes” to all nine (9) questions. Most of the questions are general in nature but what is important to note are questions relating to “inadmissibility.” These are question numbers 5 through 8.
Notwithstanding a grant of an extension of stay or change of status, an applicant is disqualified from using the VRP if there is a prior stay of more than six months in the US. This extended stay, even if it is legal, requires a determination of whether or not the applicant engaged in an activity that is beyond the purpose of the prior admission.
Being refused a visa in the last 12 months is also a disqualification ground under the VRP.
There are varied reasons why a traveler is sent back to Manila upon entry at the airport. One common reason is “immigrant intent” or prior visa violation. When a visitor visa holder, for instance, is discovered to have worked as a “caregiver” while in the US, this will be ground for the inspector to cancel the visa and order the traveler back to Manila. Once the visitor visa is cancelled, renewing it under the VRP is not an option. The VRP does not apply to cancelled visas.
In the case of Marian, she is definitely not qualified because she stayed for more than six months in the US and her visa was cancelled after she tried to reenter the US.
But a disqualification to renew under the VRP does not mean that a new visitor’s visa cannot be granted. It just means that the applicant has to undergo the regular process of an interview with the consular officer on the merits of the application. Whether or not this is going to be renewed will depend on each particular case.
The VRP program is a welcome development and hopefully Filipino travelers with nonimmigrant visas will benefit from this efficient and expedited process.
(Tancinco may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 877 7177 or 721 1963)