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Visa application rejections soaring on public-charge grounds

The U.S. Department of State has been disappointing increasing numbers of visa applicants hoping for permission to live legally in Florida or elsewhere in the United States. A procedural change to the State Department's foreign affairs manual has given diplomats greater leeway to reject applications, especially if they believe that an applicant might use public services.

The procedural change came into effect in January 2018, and it appears to be accelerating the rate at which immigration authorities deny visas on public-charge grounds. Refusals based on concerns about immigrants using public assistance grew from 900 in 2015 to almost 13,500 in fiscal year 2018. This represented four times the number of public-charge denials issued in 2017.

Until recent years, a visa applicant could usually gain approval if a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident sponsored the person and signed an affidavit of support. This provided evidence that the person would not need to rely on government benefits. The procedural change now discounts the weight previously given to this sponsorship. Immigration authorities may now look at the use of government services by an applicant's family, even if those people are citizens. Additionally, officials may now consider the use of non-cash benefits like medical services or food assistance.

To prepare for the scrutiny of immigration officials, someone who needs to apply for a visa could seek legal support. An attorney knowledgeable about U.S. immigration law may be able to evaluate the person's position and goals and recommend how to proceed. Legal support may help a person assemble the necessary documents and answer questions thoroughly on applications or during in-person interviews. An attorney might monitor the actions of immigration authorities and take action if they deviate from the rules or violate the applicant's rights.

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