Last week, I was lucky to be able to arrange a time to sit down with the two Senior Attorneys at GoffWilson
. The timing was perfect for a quick interview, as they had just returned from an exciting business trip to India and the sights, sounds, and smells of the country were still fresh in their minds. More than an exciting journey, it was an exciting time for the firm—over GoffWilson’s 30+ years in immigration law, and having worked across the globe (particularly in Europe through GoffWilson’s Paris office), this was the first time the firm had been to India on business. Throughout the firm’s history, it has helped a multitude of Indians come to the United States to study and work. While GoffWilson has developed an incredible reputation for their in-depth knowledge of immigration law, the chance to get a better understanding of the people they help and experience the Indian culture firsthand was an opportunity that they couldn't pass up.
Below, John Wilson
, President of GoffWilson, and Founding Partner Attorney Susan Goff
tell us about why they traveled to India, some of the challenges facing Indians hoping to come to the U.S., and some of the experiences they had on their trip.
Where did you visit?
SG: Over the course of the week, we visited Delhi and Hyderabad, India.
JW: The trip included visits to the United States Embassy in Delhi, the Consulate in Hyderabad, and HITEC City in Hyderabad.
Tell me about visiting the Embassy and Consulate.
JW: We felt incredibly privileged to be received at the Embassy and the Consulate, and anyone who has ever been fortunate to visit one knows that the experience can be a little surreal.
SG: Both the United States Embassy in Delhi and the Consulate in Hyderabad are fascinating places to visit. They are self-contained with their own schools, housing, and infrastructure on site, and operate almost as mini-cities in the midst of these giant, bustling centers of Indian life.
What was the purpose of the trip?
SG: We were retained to travel to India to investigate some perceived unfair visa denials.
JW: In addition to looking into visa denials, we sought to make connections, discover how to avoid these problems in the future, and ensure that the institutions we represent have access to the best and brightest minds in the world while helping ensure that immigration issues don’t slow down the innovation and progress of these institutions.
Why are visas denied?
JW: There can be a variety of reasons, but having the intent to remain in the U.S. following the purpose of the visa is most often the reason. The catchall for declining to issue a non-immigrant visa is a §214(b) refusal.
Can you explain what a §214(b) refusal is?
JW: In its simplest form, a §214(b) refusal is issued when a consular official doesn’t believe the visa applicant intends to depart the United States when their visa expires. Because non-immigrant visas are interview-based, the individual seeking the visa must prove that they are intend to only be in the U.S. temporarily, and plan on leaving the country when their job, studies, or visa comes to a conclusion. Furthermore, the applicant must be able to show that they can afford to pay for their trip. Often, the applicant will also be asked to provide documentation supporting their claims such as travel arrangements, employment letters, or financial statements.
SG: Because of the vague guidelines for approval or denial and the enormous amount of discretion placed in the hands of the consular official, there is the opportunity for an individual with the means and desire to come to the U.S. for work or study to be refused. The most common reason cited for refusal is the that the officer decided, based on the individual's interview, that their social, family, economic, and other ties to India are not strong enough to overcome the presumption that the person will stay in the U.S.
What did you learn about visa denials while in India?
JW: One of the best things to come from our trip to India was getting an up-close look at the visa process and gaining an in-depth knowledge of the processes’ inner workings. Furthermore, we met with several high-level officials at the U.S. Embassy in Delhi and the Consulate in Hyderabad. From those meetings, we were able to learn what questions to ask when a visa is denied, who to talk to, and what channels to go through for a quick resolution.
SG: We have a better understanding of what they are looking for in applicants and what signs make them leery. For example, all of the officials we spoke with told us that they didn’t like when applicants sound coached and were suspicious of any answer that sounded too rehearsed or prepackaged.
How did you find the U.S. officials?
SG: First and foremost, we understand that these officials have a job to do, and at times it can be a hard job. While at times our opinions differed from the officials, we have the utmost respect for them. All of the officials we met with were extremely courteous.
JW: We were able to establish a working relationship with these important officials, while gaining key insights into the interview process, what they look for, and how the process works.
Any other takeaways from your visit to the embassy and consulate or your meetings with officials?
JW: I think the trip was invaluable in getting a more comprehensive understanding of how the procedure actually works, and learning which questions to ask and whom to ask.
Are you ready to go back to India?
JW: I am not ready to tackle the plane ride again...yet. But if business calls, I will happily be back in India.
SW: I second the plane ride; 16+ hours is a long time to be cooped up! However, India is truly an amazing place and I would welcome the chance to go back and see more of the country.