Aim of this information
This section looks at how the Embassy makes their decision to either issue a visa or decline the application; it also provides examples of some success stories.
It forms part of our information on travelling to the US including:
Why is this important?
Once you’ve submitted your visa application and attended the interview at the embassy the next step will be waiting to find out whether your application has been successful. Consular officers at the embassy probably won’t tell you on the day of the interview what their decision is likely to be. It helps to have an understanding of what factors they take into account when making a decision in order that you’re able to address any concerns they may have when you attend the interview. It is also important to know what options are open to you if you are found to be ‘permanently ineligible’.
How do the Embassy make their decision?
Who is regarded as ineligible for a visa?
If you are ineligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) then you will generally be regarded as being ineligible for a visa. However, the interview at the embassy will give you the opportunity for your case to be assessed by a consular officer.
For further information on those who are normally ineligible, see the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. This refers to section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Who is likely to be granted a visa?
The consular officer will take certain important factors into consideration such as:
- the egregiousness (offensiveness or seriousness) of the crime
- the severity of the penalty
- other criminal activity
- how much time has elapsed between the time the offence was committed and the visa application.
The emphasis of the interview from your position should be to persuade the interviewing officer that you are an upstanding member of society who would not engage in further criminal activity within the US. For further information on how you can increase your chances of being successful go to our Information hub page, Travelling to US – Applying for as visa – STEP 5 – Attend the interview.
Below you will find links to various guidelines by the US authorities for dealing with applications. However, these are very much discretionary, and do not amount to blanket policies, hence the reason for an interview at the US Embassy. The US Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9 – Visas also contains some useful information about how the US makes their decision as to whether to grant a visa, but very often it will simply be a case of making an application and awaiting the decision.
Generally inadmissible (1) – Crimes involving moral turpitude
The Immigration and Nationality Act states that, in general, anybody convicted of, or who admits to committing, or acts which constitute the essential elements of a crime involving moral turpitude (other than a purely political offence), is inadmissible.
There is an exception to this general inadmissibility if you have committed a crime involving moral turpitude where you only committed one crime and either:
- The crime was committed when you were under 18 years of age, and the crime was committed (and you were released from any prison sentence imposed for the crime) more than 5 years before the date of application for a visa; or
- The maximum penalty possible for the crime that you were convicted of did not exceed imprisonment for one year and you were not sentenced to a term of imprisonment in excess of 6 months (regardless of the extent to which the sentence was ultimately executed).
Generally inadmissible (2) – Crimes involving controlled substances
The Immigration and Nationality Act states that, in general, anybody convicted of an offence relating to a controlled substance is inadmissible.
Generally inadmissible (3) – Convicted of two or more offences
You are generally inadmissible if you have been convicted of 2 or more offences (other than purely political offences), regardless of whether the conviction was in a single trial or whether the offences involved moral turpitude, for which the total aggregate sentences to prison were 5 years or more.
Deciding to issue a visa
Having reviewed the information you’ve submitted and taken into account the details provided at the interview, the consular officer at the embassy will make a decision on whether to issue you with the visa you have applied for.
If you are successful, the consular officer will inform you verbally that:
- They will be granting you a visa; or
- They will be recommending you to the United States Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection (DHSCBP) for a waiver of ineligibility.
If the consular officer decides that you are ineligible to receive a visa, your application will be denied. You will be informed verbally and in writing of the reason for the denial based on the applicable section(s) of law.
Waivers of ineligibility
If the US Embassy finds you permanently ineligible to receive a visa, it will mean a lifetime exclusion from the United States unless you obtain a waiver of ineligibility from the United States Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection.
The granting of a waiver by the US authorities is not automatic and is based on several factors, including nature of the crime committed, sentence served and the period of time which has elapsed since the conviction.
How do I get a waiver of ineligibility?
If a favourable recommendation is made to the DHSCBP for a waiver of ineligibility by the US Embassy, the application will take a minimum of eight weeks to process; some applications may take longer.
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for waivers of ineligibility for visas and inadmissibility to the US for most non-immigrant visa classifications. The statute confers upon consular officers the discretionary function of recommending waivers of ineligibility to Department for Homeland Security (DHS), which has sole authority for granting or denying waivers. If a waiver if not recommended to DHS, a waiver will not be granted and the non-immigrant visa sought will not be issued.
In deciding whether or not to recommend a waiver, consular officers will consider the following factors, amongst others:
- The recency and seriousness of the activity or condition resulting in your inadmissibility;
- The reasons for the proposed travel to the US; and
- Any effect, positive or negative, of the planned travel on US public interests.
How do I apply for a waiver of ineligibility?
If you are inadmissible due to having committed a crime involving moral turpitude, you can apply for a waiver of ineligibility under Section 212(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act if you can establish that:
- (a) The activities for which you are excluded occurred more than 15 years before the date of your application for a visa; (b) Your admission to the US would not be contrary to the national welfare, safety or security; and (c) You have been rehabilitated; or
- In certain cases involving close relatives (see below); or
- If you are a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioner
No waiver shall be provided to those who have been convicted of (or has admitted committing acts that constitute) murder or criminal acts involving torture, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit murder or a criminal act involving torture.
More information about waivers of ineligibility is available here.
If you are the spouse, parent, son or daughter of a US citizen or an individual lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States, you may apply for a waiver if:
- It is established to the Secretary of Homeland Security’s (DHS) satisfaction that denial of admission would result in extreme hardship to the US citizen or lawfully resident spouse, parent, son or daughter; and
- The Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) has consented to the application or reapplication for a visa for admission or adjustment of status to the United States.
What it looks like in your passport if you get a visa
Feedback that we’ve received about successful visa applications include:
I received a caution for possession of a controlled substance (Class A) in 2009. By mid-2010, I had applied for and been granted a visa which was valid for 10 years. I went suited and booted and they just asked me whether I was still misusing drugs. I think possession is extremely minor in the spectrum of drugs-related offences.
After my last visa attempt in London two years ago, I bit the bullet and tried again for my B2 visa applying to the US Consulate in Belfast. I arrived early and after being searched I walked to the back of the building and into a small office with three counters and an interview booth. I passed all my documents over and about 20 minutes later I was called to the interview booth and greeted by a really friendly American lady. She asked me lots of questions all the time typing away at her screen. Eventually she thanked me for being so upfront and honest and said “its my decision to grant you your visa for 10 years.” Now I’m just waiting for my passport to come back.
Just had my visa interview. I arrived early and made sure I dressed in a suit and tie. I gave all my documents to an official for registration and 30 minutes later I was called to a booth to speak with a US Immigration Officer. She asked me why I was travelling to the US and she wanted more details about my two convictions. She then told me to wait while she went to “check something”. Five minutes later she came back and said “Everything is fine, your visa has been approved”. I won’t believe that I’ve overcome every hurdle until I set foot on American soil.
The personal stories below have been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.
Discuss this with others
Read and share your experiences on our online forum.
Key sections include:
Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.
- US Embassy and Consulates in the UK – Provides information and advice on the visa application process
- For practical information – More information on travelling to the US
- To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine under the tag of travelling to the USA
- To discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
- Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.
Help us to add value to this information. You can:
- Send your feedback directly to us
- Discuss your views and experience with others on our online forum
- Share your story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.
This page was last fully reviewed and updated in August 2017. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to email@example.com.