Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Immigration Corner | Could I lose my visa?

Published:Tuesday | March 23, 2021 | 12:07 AM

Good day Mrs Walker-Huntington,

I n 2019, the hotel I worked closed for renovations for four months. I decided to spend the time in the United States with close friends. I booked the ticket for that time and returned home at the end of my stay.

In early 2020, I went to an overseas work agency here in Jamaica to apply for an eight-month contract job in the USA. I was advised that there was a high possibility that I would be turned down for a work visa and have my visiting visa revoked at the US Embassy, because of the amount of time I spent on my visit (4 months). They said that everyone that they sent to the embassy for a work visa the previous year that spent four months or longer previously on their visiting visa were refused and had their visiting visa taken away.

My question is, even though this was the first time I was staying that long there and didn’t extend my stay, is it so that I could be penalised for that?

Thanks in advance for your response.

– O.B.

Dear O.B.,

We see so many people lose their visa and privilege to visit the United States because of how they used their visitor’s visa. When persons arrive in the United States with a visitor’s visa, they are questioned about the purpose and duration of their visit, among other questions. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer has wide latitude to question persons arriving at the border, and if the officer has any doubt about the validity of visit or any prior abuse of a visa, the person is usually sent to Secondary Inspection.

A person can abuse their visa by the manner they used it – the most common example is coming to America on a visitor’s visa and spending a long time in the country. Sometimes, persons spend half the year or more in America and end up being in America more than they are in their home country during a year. People believe that when they arrive at the border, tell the CBP officer they are visiting for three weeks and receive six months to stay, that they are free to stay six months. That extended period is given as convenience for persons that in the event they encounter a problem, they can stay longer than the three weeks without overstaying. It is not a blanket invitation to keep coming to America and spending extended periods of time.

The other side of this issue is that some persons enter the United States on their visitor’s visa and spend several months working ‘under the table’ and then return home. This causes the CBP to view anyone who presents themselves at the border who previously spent several months in the US with suspicion.

By extension, if you spent several months in America and present yourself at the US Embassy to apply for a different visa or to renew your visitor’s visa, you will undergo the same suspicion as if you presented yourself at the border. Yes, it can happen even if you only stayed for an extended period during one visit. This is not to say that some people have not been coming to America for months at a time and have not had their visa cancelled or a renewal denied. Everyone experiences a different level of discretion in the visa and admission process, depending on the officer who is reviewing their application.

At the same time, there are people who vacation in America for extended periods without losing that privilege. It often turns on the person’s ability to support themselves while in America.

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington, Esq, is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal & international law in Florida. She is a mediator and former special magistrate & hearing officer in Broward County, Florida. info@walkerhuntington.com