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Common myths about US visa applications

Wednesday, September 12, 2012    

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WHY must a policeman have five years on the job before he can get a visa? Is there a grade point average cut-off in order to get a J-1 visa for Summer Work and Travel? How much money must I have in the bank before I can qualify for a visa? My mother was turned down for her visa because she is over 80. Why do you have an age limit?

These are all different questions, but all share one thing in common: they reflect commonly held myths about the visa application process that simply are not true. There are endless rumours about various benchmarks that applicants have to meet in order to qualify — that you have to have so many years on the job, or make above a certain salary, or only have so many immediate relatives in the United States. Such rumours have no basis in fact.

The only requirement for qualifying for non-immigrant visa is that you convince the officer that you intend to return to Jamaica at the conclusion of your proposed visit and that you will abide by the terms of the visa.

The specific questions the officer will ask you are posed with these criteria in mind. The officer might, for instance, ask how long you've been in your current job — not because there is a magic number of years on your job that qualifies you for a visa, but simply because it helps give the officer a sense of how compelling your ties to your home country are. Officers are aware, however, that even applicants who have been in the same job for 30 years might have other reasons to stay in America, just as they recognise that someone who just started their dream job might not leave that job for any reason. No application is ever approved or denied based simply on one specific piece of information, like years on the job or money in the bank. Officers look at the whole person, and try to take all aspects of an applicant's personal situation into account.

There is no income requirement. There is no age limit. There is no minimum grade point average for participation in the Summer Work and Travel programme. The officer might ask about your income, your age and even your grade point average (especially, if you are applying for a student visa or to participate in the Summer Work and Travel), but only because he or she is trying to develop a better understanding of your circumstances and what might bring you back to Jamaica, whether that is a good job, a degree in progress or strong family or community ties. None of these alone will necessarily qualify you for a visa, nor will the lack of one necessarily mean that you don't qualify.

Bear in mind that the officer is not looking for you to meet any specific cut-off point when he or she asks questions of this sort, only for you to accurately describe your personal circumstances. If you should stretch the truth in order to give what you think is the "right" answer, you will probably do more harm than good. The officer will recognise that you are not being truthful, and may begin to doubt the rest of what you say. In fact, lying on your visa application or during the visa interview could make you permanently ineligible to receive a visa. It's simply not worth the risk.

The best way to maximise your chance of getting a visa is therefore simply to answer the officer's questions completely and honestly, and offer whatever evidence you can of your intention to use your visa appropriately and return to Jamaica at the conclusion of your visit. That said, even if you are completely honest, you still might not qualify. But you certainly will not qualify if you do not tell the truth.

For more information about American Citizen Services, please visit our website, http://kingston.usembassy.gov/service.html.

Reminder for US citizens

The 2012 election season is underway in the United States. To register to vote from abroad or to sign up to receive state-specific election alerts, visit http://fvap.gov. You may drop off your voting materials with postage affixed at the US Embassy in Kingston or at the US Consular Agencies in Montego Bay and the Cayman Islands for delivery to the United States.

The US 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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