Integrity Legal

6th November 2009

The United States visa waiver program, not to be confused with an I-601 waiver, allows citizens from certain countries to enter the United States of American without obtaining a visa prior to arrival. In recent years the United States government has implemented ESTA, also known as: the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA requires that travelers wishing to enter the country on a visa waiver inform the US Immigration authorities prior to arrival so that a pre-screening can be conducted. The United States Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service is tasked with monitoring those seeking travel clearances using the ESTA system. Recently it has been reported by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that 221g denials must be reported in the ESTA form, to quote AILA directly:

“CBP recently informed AILA that it, after consultation with the Department of State (DOS), is classifying all §221(g) actions on visa applications as visa “denials.” Thus, Visa Waiver Program (VWP) applicants, who are subject to INA §221(g) refusals, should answer affirmatively in their ESTA applications that they have been denied a visa. This suggestion applies even if the reason for the refusal is due to consular administrative processing. If VWP travelers do not disclose such a “denial” on their ESTA applications or provide an update regarding such “denials,” they may have their ESTA registration rejected or be sent to secondary inspection and potentially refused entry when they apply for admission to the United States.”

This is important to note for those originating from a country participating in the US visa waiver program. For example, if the foreign fiancee of a US Citizen has been issued a 221g with regard to a K1 visa application, then that 221g must be disclosed as a denial on the ESTA form if said fiancee intends to visit the US and the foreign fiancee’s home country participates in this program.

As AILA’s article went on to point out, the Department of State does not even consider 221(g)’s to be outright denials,

Technically, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) classifies a §221(g) action as a visa “refusal,” but DOS explicitly retains authority to “reactivate” the visa application upon receipt of required documents or completion of a government mandated administrative clearance. See 9 FAM 41.121 N2.4.

This situation is a classic example of two different government agencies taking a differing view of the same situation. The Department of State seems to view 221g refusals as administrative refusals to issue a visa without further documentation while the Department of Homeland Security seems to view such refusals as US visa denials that could be viewed as grounds for denying a person’s subsequent entry into the USA.

This issue will likely not be particularly problematic in the Kingdom of Thailand as Thailand is not a country participating in the visa waiver program, but for others around the world this issue could lead to problems entering the USA.

For those in this situation, it is always advisable to be honest, but it may be possible to explain the situation by answering “yes” to the question: Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or entry? After answering in the affirmative there should be space to explain. Therefore, the applicant probably should note that the denial was: a 221(g), at the Embassy or Consulate (example: US Embassy Bangkok, US Consulate Chiang Mia, US Embassy Burma, etc.),  and the reason for the “denial” (example: Embassy conducted administrative processing, Consulate requested further documentation, etc).


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