THE TOURIST VISA AND THE COLOMBIANA
*THIS ARTICLE IS WRITTEN ABOUT A COLOMBIAN LATINA, BUT THE SAME
VISA RULES AND PROCESS APPLY TO ANY FOREIGN CITIZEN, LADY, GENTLEMAN
OR MINOR FROM ANY COUNTRY APPLYING FOR A TOURIST VISA AT A U.S. CONSULATE.

By: Gary G. Bala

LAST REVISED: DECEMBER 2006

I. What is a "Tourist Visa"?

A tourist visa, or B-2 visa, and sometimes called a "visitor's visa", "visitation visa", "travel visa" or "vacation visa" permits legal entry of a foreign visitor into the United States for a brief temporary stay. The purpose of the visa is tourism. Thus, a tourist visa is considered a "non-immigrant" visa, meaning that the visitor is expected to return home at the end of her visa stay.

II. How Do You Qualify for a "Tourist Visa"?

Colombian nationals are issued a tourist visa by the American Consulate in Bogotá upon submission of Form DS-156 and an interview, while citizens of other countries are issued the tourist visa by the respective American Consulate in their country. A successful applicant must show sufficient ties to her country to assure the Consular officer that she will return home and not overstay her visa visitation period. Examples of such ties are: EMPLOYMENT-a permanent, good paying and secure job by local standards in her native country's government or private industry which provides her a standard of living comparable to the U.S.; FINANCIAL ASSETS-non-liquid financial assets such as ownership of business, property, automobiles, and so on which are sufficiently valuable and thus unlikely to be forfeited if the applicant never returns home; FAMILY-strong family ties such as a child left behind in the applicant's home country. [This is not conclusive however since many mothers from poor countries are known to visit the U.S. without their children who stay behind with grandparents or other close relatives, then try to adjust immigration status in the U.S. and sponsor their children later.]; TRAVEL HISTORY-The applicant has previously visited the U.S. with a non-immigrant visa and has returned home every time within the allotted time. SENIOR CITIZENS: It is generally believed that tourist visa applicants who are senior citizens, for example age 65 and older, and especially on a fixed retirement income which might be forfeited if they did not return home, may able to secure a a tourist visa more readily.

III. What are the Time Limits for a "Tourist Visa"?

A tourist visa is generally issued for a five year period and is usually referred to as a "Five Year Multiple Entry" visa. The visa permits the holder to visit the United States right away, and as often as possible in the five year term. But each visit to the United States is limited in duration. Technically each visit may only last fifteen days, but in the past routine stays of up to six months were allowed. Very often, the visa holder was permitted six months all at once when she first arrives, and was allowed to petition for additional time for a period up to six months more, for a maximum of one year.

IMPORTANT: Under recent Acts of Congress such as USA Patriot Act of 2001, Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, and The Homeland Security Act of 2002, Immigration Service announced significant visa rule changes. The new rules in general allow visitors under B-2 Tourist Visas to stay in the U.S. for only a period of time which is "fair and reasonable to accomplish their purpose", in many cases no more than 30 days. Thus technically, there is a 30 day "default period". The new rules also prohibit changes of visa status from tourist visa to student visa if that intention is not announced at time of admission. See Summary of New Procedures: Destination USA. Secure Borders. Open Doors. Tourist Visa visitors who wish to apply for an extension of time to stay must file an application with Immigration Service with a $195.00 filing fee, and demonstrate "unexpected or compelling humanitarian reasons". Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, Form I-539. For more reading information on the Tourist Visa, see: 1. State Department Temporary Vistors to the USA 2. State Department Video on Temporary Visas 3. USCIS Information on Temporary Nonimmigrant Visas

IV. How Difficult is it to Secure a "Tourist Visa"?

While the U.S. Consulates insist that almost 85% of applicants are granted the visa, it is not a particularly easy visa to secure. (Most potential applicants don't apply once they see all the requirements, nevertheless most Consulates are usually always processing a long line of tourist visa applicantions.) In 2000 for example, there was a 25% increase in U.S. tourist visa applications by Colombian nationals. As of January 2001, there were approximately 2000 tourist visa applications a day being filed with the American Consulate in Bogotá, with interview appointments being scheduled 18-24 months in advance. Hundreds of applicants a day are interviewed, and the wait times alone for the visa interview are up to four hours in line. More recently, the Consulate in Bogota, in an effort to improve long wait times, authorized many local Banks to distribute the visa application forms and instituted a Visa Information Service automated hotline to allow some applicants to schedule their interview appointments by phone, and some people are reporting that they can receive an interview appointment in six (6) months or even less. Since many Colombians have been heading to the U.S. without securing any visa in hopes of entering under a claim of "political asylum", current State Department requirement calls for Colombians to hold a "transit visa" before entering the U.S. even just to change plane.

To Check CurrentWaiting Times for Tourist Visa at the U.S. Consulates Worldwide, Click Here: State Department Visa Waiting Times.

V. How Do You Apply for a "Tourist Visa"?

To apply for a tourist visa, the applicant submits a Form DS-156 and pays a non-refundable processing fee of $100.00 US or the equivalent in Colombian pesos. In Bogotá, Colombia, the form is obtained gratis from the Embassy front entrance or the Banco Unión Colombiano such as the one at Carrera 47 # 22A-99, Edificio Eliana, Bogotá, Colombia. The fee is paid at the Bank, which issues a PIN number which is then used to call the Visa Information Service (Tel: 01-8000-12-32-32) to schedule an interview appointment by a telephone automated system. See: Visa Information Service FAQ page of U.S. Embassy, Bogota website. Male Applicants must now also submit the Form DS-157. Requests for a faster interview will be entertained in cases of family or medical emergency or urgent business matters by faxing a request to the Nonimmigrant Section of the U.S. Embassy, Fax: 315-2127.

An extensive list of supporting documents is required with a tourist visa application, including identification documents such as birth certificate and passport, and documents showing employment, financial and family ties to Colombia. All applicants for a tourist visa are presumed under U.S. consular laws to have an "immigrant intent" for the U.S., and the burden is on the applicant to prove otherwise. Thus, the key test to determine if the tourist visa application should be granted or denied is: whether or not the applicant has shown sufficient and concrete ties to Colombia through documents and at the interview to assure that she will return to her country at the end of her visa period and not simply over-stay her visit. If there is a visa denial, there is usually a twelve (12) month waiting time to re-apply. Currently, tourist visas, and tourist visa renewals, are mailed via DOMESA (a private Colombia carrier) to the applicant's home address in 7 to 10 days after the interview and final approval.

Invitation Letter from Family or Friends in the USA: Many people feel that a Tourist Visa applicant carries a better prospect for securing the visa if armed at the Consular Interview with an "Invitation Letter" from a family member or friends in the USA, inviting the applicant to visit the USA and perhaps even financially supporting the applicant's proposed visit. The official policy of the U.S. Government appears to be that such as letter does not necessarily help because each Tourist Visa application stands on its own and is judged on the basis of the applicant's individual proof of return-to-home. See Destination USA Statement of Government Policy on "Hosting Visitors to the U.S." We also think that such an Invitation Letter usually does not help. However, on the other hand, perhaps in some limited cases, it sometimes cannot hurt if it: clearly identifies who the signer of the letter is, the purpose of the visit, and limits the applicant's invitation to a visit of a limited duration (for example an invitation letter inviting the applicant for only say 10 days and only for a very specific purpose and offering to financially support the applicant's visit and making a "guarantee" of the applicant's return home). Keep in mind however that, in the end, the applicant's other proof ON HER OWN to show that she will return home will be the deciding factor. Also, be prepared for the Consular Interviewer to ask many questions about who the Invitiation Letter signer is, what his or her relationship to the applicant is and what exactly is his or her motivation to "help". If there is any doubt in the mind of the Consular Officer that the Invitation Letter author might assist the applicant to stay in the U.S. beyond the limited duration of the visa, or is otherwise trying to use the Tourist Visa process for a purpose not intended such as for a Fiancee Visa courtship or to help the applicant work or study in the U.S., the Tourist Visa application will be summarily denied.

Where there may be compelling family, medical or emergency reasons applicable supported by documentation, an tourist visa applicant can request an expedited visa appointment date: See: Requesting An Earlier Interview Appointment Date.

A sufficiently compelling medical reason may provide an applicant with the option of applying for a special form of tourist visa known as B-2 U.S. Medical Treatment Visa.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information in Colombia:
Consular Section, U.S. Embassy
Carrera 45 # 22D-45
Bogotá, D.C.
Colombia
Tel: 315-1566 (Mondays through Thursdays, 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM)
Fax for Non-Immigrant Section: 315-2127

VI. Is Using a Lawyer Advantageous to Help Secure a "Tourist Visa"?

In general, utilizing the services of an immigration lawyer is greatly beneficial in the visa process. Most experts currently agree however that the "Tourist Visa" may be an exception to this rule. In other words, using an attorney to assist you may actually be counter-productive. Tourist visa applications with the name of a lawyer representing the applicant are actually viewed with suspicion and are sometimes even pulled aside for special processing scrutiny. The reason for this is that many Consular officers believe that the lawyer will be utilized later to assist the applicant in finding a way to stay in the U.S. after the visa period is over. Since the purpose of the tourist visa is a temporary short-stay visit to the U.S., and such a purpose would be defeated by the lawyer's services to help applicant stay in the U.S., the Consulate is often less likely to approve lawyer-submitted tourist visa applications.

VII. Can an American Citizen Marry a Foriegn Lady under a "Tourist Visa?

Perils and Pitfalls

Marrying a foreign lady visiting under a tourist visa is not a recommended course of action because that is not the intended purpose of a tourist visa, which is simply a brief temporary stay for tourism with a return home. As a practical matter, the Immigration Service knows that it happens and has in the past been willing to tolerate the action provided that the marriage is 1. truly genuine and not a sham, and 2. happened spontaneously and without pre-planning when the tourist visa was applied for.

The procedure is: The foreign lady enters under a tourist visa for the purpose of brief temporary tourism with the intention of returning home. After a time in the United States, she meets, develops a relationship with and marries an American citizen or permanent resident. The gentleman then secures U.S. legal residency in the United States for his new wife by petitioning the Immigration Service with a Form I-485 Adjustment of Status application and Form I-130 Petition for Immediate Relative. The couple is interviewed by the Immigration Service officer to assure that the marriage is genuine and not a sham, and to secure an explanation as to how and why the foreign visitor married under a B-2 tourist visa.

Pitfall #1: An American gentleman who is single and tries to help a single lady secure a tourist visa in her home country will probably hurt more than help.

The Consular officer in the U.S. Embassy of the lady's home country wants to be assured that the applicant will not overstay her tourist visa period and simply remain in the United States. Thus, he or she will be suspicious of any "help" in the form of an "invitation letter" from or personal visit by an American gentleman who appears to be a potential suitor. This is because it raises the possibility of a personal relationship between the two which may conclude in a marriage in the United States. Most importantly, the personal appearance and credibility of the lady applicant during the interview is critical. If, for example, an attractive and unattached lady provides weak and uncertain answers to questions and seems to have no means of financial support or meaningful ties to her country, some Consular officers and Immigration Service officials are immediately suspicious. They often speculate that the lady is actually trying to secure a "green card" through marriage to a U.S. citizen, and thus deny the visa application.

Pitfall #2: If there is any evidence in the lady's interview or documents that she is intending to visit a prospective gentlemen fiancé or boyfriend in the U.S., she may be either denied a tourist visa altogether at the Consulate or, perhaps even worse, denied entry into the U.S. at the Port of Entry.

Naturally under these circumstances, the Consular officer at the Embassy or the Immigration Service officer at the Port of Entry would have reason to believe that the lady will not return home but marry her "friend" at the end of her visa period. Thus, he may choose to deny the visa outright or deny entry at the Port of Entry, if warranted, or limit her stay to a few weeks at a time, requiring a return interview.

Pitfall #3: An Immigration Service interviewing officer at the Adjustment of Status Interview for a lady who married a U.S. citizen under a tourist visa may make a finding in her immigration file of "fraudulent intent", thus defeating her adjustment of status.

If there is sufficient reason to believe that the marriage between the tourist and the American gentleman citizen is not genuine but a sham or was not spontaneous but pre-planned, the Immigration Service officer may find that the tourist had "fraudulent intent" in applying for and utilizing the tourist visa for a brief temporary visit. This by itself will result in the denial of your wife's petition for U.S. legal residency, and may make her subject to removal (deportation) and exclusion proceedings. This means that your wife must return home to her country, while you live here (not a very pleasant result).

Pitfall #4: If unsavory details of the lady's life are brought to light at the Adjustment of Status interview and background check, her adjustment may be denied.

If an FBI, CIA or INTERPOL check or other documentation shows evidence that the lady has a record of criminality, drug trafficking, prostitution, or communicable disease which you didn't know about, your wife will probably be denied U.S. legal residency and be subject to removal (deportation) and exclusion proceedings. Again, this forces your wife to return home to her country, while you live here.

A SUCCESSFUL ADJUSTMENT TO LEGAL RESIDENCY FROM TOURIST VISA AFTER MARRIAGE TO U.S. CITIZEN:
Under what circumstances then, would the Immigration Service view favorably aadjustment status petition of a tourist who married a U.S. citizen, and grant her U.S. legal residency? Typically, the couple must show that the marriage:

1.Was spontaneous and "on the spur of the moment"

2.Had no evidence of pre-planning or foresight

3.Was performed at a simple and unplanned ceremony

4.Happened at least 2 1/2 to 4 months (or more) after the lady entered the U.S.
(Marriages which take place within 60 days of the lady's entry under a tourist visa are presumed to be visa fraud). (Since most tourist visa stays will be limited to 30 days under new Immigration Service rule changes, adjustment of status from tourist visa to legal residency based in domestic marriage to U.S. citizens will become more problematic.)
Practically speaking, the type of case where adjustment might be successful:
The lady secured the tourist visa initially on her own before she knew of the U.S. citizen suitor and without his help, she used the tourist visa to enter the U.S. before she knew of him, learned of him and met him for the first time in the U.S., the couple "spontaneoulsy" fell in love during the tourist visa period without any pre-planning or foresight, and the couple married after 60 to 90 days of her U.S. visit.

As concerns eligibility to work, a foreign visitor under a tourist visa generally cannot work, except under some very limited exceptions. As concerns going to school however, a foreign visitor under a tourist visa can attend classes or courses provided that she leaves at the expiration of her visa stay. As concerns travel rights and restrictions, a foreign visitor under a tourist visa who has married an American citizen cannot freely travel immediately. He or she must first submit a Petition to Request legal residency called "Adjustment of Status", and then file a travel petition known as "Advance Parole" in order to secure permission to re-enter the U.S. if she travels abroad.

VIII. What are Some of the Immigration Penalties in the Visa Process?

Penalties for the American citizen or permanent resident for some typical offenses associated with foreign brides and fiancees:

1. Conviction for Marriage Fraud

**Up to five years federal prison and/or $250,000 fine
(See Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. Section 1325)

2. Conviction for Willfully and Knowingly Falsifing or Concealing a Material Fact, Making a False Statement, or Making Use of a False Document

**Up to five years federal prison and/or $10,000 fine
(See Crimes and Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C. Section 1001)

IX. What are Some Additional Reading Links?:

1. For the U.S. Embassy's (Kiev, Ukraine) explanation of the "legal reality" that some ladies signed up with international marriage brokers and Internet contact agencies have demonstrated an "immigrant intent" for the U.S., thus precluding the issuance of a U.S. Tourist Visa, see: Information on Use of Marriage Brokers...

2. For the U.S. Embassy's (Kiev, Ukraine) Internet Warning Alert, see: Internet Marriage Fraud

3. For the U.S. Embassy's (Minsk, Belarus) Internet Warning Alert, see: Notice to U.S. Citizens on Romance Cheat

4. For an immigration newsletter article explaining the potential difficulties for a U.S. citizen marrying a foreign lady under a U.S. Tourist Visa, see Immigration Issues dated June 30, 1999: Don't Learn the Hard Way...

STUDENT VISAS: In addition to the requirement of Strong Ties to her Home Country, a Student Visa applicant requires academic admission to an Immigration Service-approved School or University with the Form I-20 documentation and must usually be a top level student in a field of study in which U.S. universities seek more students.

For the U.S. State Department Information on Student Visas, see:

Student Visa Information

WORK OR BUSINESS VISAS: In addition to the requirement of Strong Ties to her Home Country, a Work or Business Visa applicant must show that she owns or manages a business in her home country, that her business is relevant to yours, that your company has a history of business dealings in her home country, and that her visit to U.S. is required for your business. These visas are also limited by numerical yearly quotas.

For the U.S. State Department Information on Employment Visas, see:

Immigrant Employment Visa Information

Temporary Employment Visa Information

DENIED VISAS: What to Do in Case the Embassy Denies Your Visa Application (Bogota, Colombia):

See:

Denied Visa

COUNTRIES WHICH DO "NOT" REQUIRE A VISA FOR COLOMBIAN NATIONAL: The Colombian Consulate has a Website Page with a List of Countries Which Do Not Require a Visa for a Colombian National to Enter (In Spanish)

See:

Countries Which Do Not Require a Visa for a Colombian National to Enter (In Spanish)

COUNTRIES WHICH COLOMBIA REQUIRES THAT A VISITOR SECURE A TOURIST VISA FIRST BEFORE ENTERING COLOMBIA: This Website Page has a List of Countries Which Colombia Requires that a Visitor Secure a Tourist Visa first before Entering Colombia:

See:

Countries Which Colombia Requires that a Visitor Secure a Tourist Visa first before Entering Colombia

EmbassyWorld.com also has a Search Engine Page to Check Visa Requirements Worldwide

See:

Check Visa Requirements Worldwide

ADDITIONAL GOVERNMENT INFORMATION ON U.S. VISAS:

See:

UnitedStatesVisas.gov

E-Mail: garybala@VISA-Attorney.com


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