Integrity Legal

9th Oct 2009

There are many misconceptions regarding the authority that officers at the United States Consulate in Thailand have. Many people mistakenly believe that legal concepts such as due process apply to matters going before US Consular officers. In reality, this is not the case. Consular officers have very broad powers when it comes to adjudicating applications for United States visas. There are laws on the books that Consular Officers must observe when determining whether or not a US visa should be issued, but when making factual determinations, the doctrine commonly referred to as Consular Absolutism applies to their decisions.

The Doctrine of Consular Absolutism basically states that the factual decisions of Consular Officers are not subject to appeal. This legal notion is also  called Consular Nonreviewability. In the case of Bustamante v. Mukasey the 9th Circuit Court of appeals concisely summed up the limited scope of judicial review that will be granted with regard to a Consular decisions in visa matters:

“[A] U.S citizen raising a constitutional challenge to the denial of a visa is entitled to a limited judicial inquiry regarding the reason for the decision. As long as the reason given is facially legitimate and bona fide the decision will not be disturbed…”

Showing that a Consular Officer’s reason for their decision is facially illegitimate or not bona fide is extremely difficult, if not, practically impossible. As a result, their decisions regarding visa issuance are essentially final.

Many wonder why Consuls are accorded such broad powers. The reason these officers are granted this ability to make unappealable decisions is based upon the policy argument that a Consular Officer is in the absolute best position to adjudicate the facts of a given visa application. In a way, Consular officers and the Doctrine of Consular Absolutism are the first lines of defense when it comes to preventing the entry of unqualified aliens into the United States of America.  They are also the first line of defense when it comes to determining fraud, misrepresentation, possible terrorist suspects, and facts which could result in a finding of legal inadmissibility. Therefore, Consular officers must be provided with the authority to deny visa applications that they find either suspicious or deficient.

This is why in visa cases involving family members it is very important to prove up the bona fides of the underlying relationship. A K1 visa application is based upon a relationship between a US Citizen and a foreign national. Proving the bona fides of this relationship can be crucial to a favorable decision. This is also true for marriage visas such as the K3 visa and the CR1 visa.

Although, some have questioned the wisdom of granting such broad powers the prerogatives exercised by Consular officers are not abused as those in the Consular Corps perform their duties efficiently, courteously, and thoughtfully. That being said, there are cases where the applicant must be denied for factual reasons. The only way to facilitate this necessity is to provide Consular Officers with a wide degree of discretion in adjudicating visa applications.

Another very valid policy argument for the retention of the Doctrine of Consular Absolutism (Consular Nonreviewability) is based upon the notion that allowing for an appeals process in US visa cases would create a tremendous administrative burden upon the Department of State specifically and the United States government generally. Therefore, it is unlikely that this situation will change in the near future.

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