I am an expatriate American businessman living in Phnom Penh. I am familiar with visa procedures, not just for the US, but for Australia and the European Union as well. I have assisted Cambodians in successfully travelling to all three. I want to comment on the accusations of unprofessional behaviour by the visa section at the US Embassy that appeared recently in your paper ["Opposition calls for US action on visa 'stress'", August 10, 2009].
For some time I have occasionally been called on by a local visa service company that specialises in Australian visas to assist with matters related to the United States. I interviewed a cross-section of Cambodians previously denied visas to the US. I spoke with people seeking all common types of visas, from applicants denied a simple tourist visa to visit family to individuals that won the coveted diversity visa lottery then failed to complete the immigration process.
A common pattern began to appear: Applicants had little knowledge of the visa application process, didn't fully understand the requirements for the type of visa they sought, and failed to properly prepare for their interview. In several cases, applicants weren't qualified to receive the type of visa they were seeking - a waste of time and money.
Without a thorough understanding of the process, most applicants can't complete it. Specifically, many applicants make mistakes in their application forms and almost all applicants fail to present a case at their embassy interview. Correspondingly, the vast majority of applicants fail to receive their visa.
Failed visa applicants lacking an understanding of the process often feel embarrassed, angry and mistreated after their brief embassy interviews.
They regularly speak poorly of the embassy staff. This is a natural reaction, but wrong. They take their failure to receive a visa as a personal insult and blame everyone else, but never themselves.
The embassy interviewer typically gives the failed applicant a letter of denial. The letter usually cites a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act: 214(b) relates to failure to prove an applicant is eligible; 221(g) relates to missing necessary documentation; 212(a) relates to fraud, fake documents or contradictory statements. There other causes for failure but these are some of the most commonly cited by embassy officers.
The lack of details in these denial letters and the visa applicants' lack of understanding often leaves the applicant feeling as if they where not given due consideration.
In truth, the embassy staff doesn't care if an applicant receives a visa or not. Part of their job is to subjectively consider the merits of each applicant. This is an important area of responsibility in Cambodia because most Cambodian citizens can't document their personal history and life as we in the West can with a lifetime of paperwork and computer records.
The most common negative complaint I hear from visa applicants is about the shortness of their embassy interviews. Interviewers are professionals: Once he or she sees that an applicant will fail, the interview is over.
To quote from the US State Department Web site: "Our consular officers have a difficult job. They must decide in a very short time if someone is qualified to receive a temporary visa."
For all but the most qualified and educated individuals, assistance is needed to complete the visa application process successfully. Most applicants need to be shown not just how to present their case, but what needs to be presented and, just as importantly, why certain things are important. There is no exact list of factors or documents to present.
Decisions are based on the sum of the evidence presented as it relates to the type of visa being sought. If you present a good case, do not make any mistakes or misstatements, have no overwhelming negative issues and speak well for yourself and your intentions during the embassy interview, you will get your visa. It is that simple.
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The views expressed above are solely the author's and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.