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Be wary of 'visa fixers'

Wednesday, March 05, 2014    

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Q: I've heard of people who say they can increase my odds of getting a visa, for example, by providing me with additional employment documents, or making small changes to my application to make my employment history seem more impressive. Is it okay to use these services?

A: Most people who apply for US visas do obtain them. Unfortunately, some individuals believe that by using the services of a "visa fixer" they may improve their chances. In fact, this is almost never the case, and your association with a visa fixer may permanently bar you from entering the United States.

What is a visa fixer? A visa fixer is someone who claims to help you obtain the visa through a variety of means. Sometimes the fixer will provide fake documents such as job letters and bank statements. The fixer may also coach you on how to lie to the consular officer during your visa interview, for example, by claiming an employment and salary that are not true. These services are provided to you for a fee, which you must pay regardless of whether you ultimately receive the visa. The cost to you is higher than for applicants who apply through the normal procedure... and your visa is NEVER guaranteed.

How can I be permanently barred? There are several reasons why someone might be permanently barred from entering the United States. Having committed crimes such as theft, rape, and murder are examples. But even immigration violations that appear much less serious can lead to a permanent refusal. If you lie to a consular officer to obtain a visa, you have committed "misrepresentation" which often results in a permanent refusal. Even if you obtain the visa initially, the Embassy actively reviews visa issuances for past years, and you may have your visa revoked later.

There is a proper way to apply. At times individuals who just had their visas revoked claim they did not know they were using the services of a visa fixer. The Consular Management would therefore urge you to consider the following guidelines:

* The proper way to apply for a visa can be found on the US Embassy Kingston website at: http://kingston.usembassy.gov/how_to_apply2.html.

* The cost of a US visa is US$160, or roughly Ja$17,600 at today's exchange rate. On average, we find you may pay an additional Ja$2,000 - Ja$2,500 if you have the application completed and submitted at a travel agency. This is a legitimate expense.

* Anyone who charges you more than these fees is likely out to make a profit on your visa application. Anyone who charges you multiple times — for example, charging more if your application is successful — is clearly not legitimate. Remember: the visa fixer does not care whether you get the visa as long as he gets paid!

* If there is false information in your online application, you are also committing misrepresentation. You need not verbally lie to the officer for this to happen.

Visa fixers take advantage of individuals who fear they may not qualify for a visa. Too often we encounter individuals who not only have paid large sums of money to a fixer, but now have permanent bars to entry. Please, help us prevent this abuse. If you have information on such activities, please call us at 702-6236 or contact us via email at KingstonFPU@state.gov.

The Embassy staff in Kingston will answer questions you may have regarding the US Mission, including consular law, regulations and/or practice. In order to respect privacy, staff will not answer questions about specific visa applications. The embassy employs a visa appointment system, so it is only necessary for visa applicants to arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment.

Send your questions to: editorial@jamaicaobserver. com and we will send them to the embassy.

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