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Visas: Reasons for Ineligibility

Under federal law, certain groups of foreign nationals are ineligible for U.S. visas. For example, a foreign national who's deemed a security threat or who has medical issues that pose a danger to public health will be denied entry into the U.S.

The screening process has two parts. First, a U.S. Consulate officer in the applicant's home country determines whether the applicant is eligible for a visa. Second, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers conduct a screening upon the applicant's arrival to the U.S. This article provides an overview of reasons for U.S. visa ineligibility.

Health-Related Reasons

A foreign national is ineligible for a U.S. visa if he or she:

  • Has a communicable disease that poses a public health risk. Note that being positive for HIV/AIDS does not render a foreign national ineligible for a visa.
  • Cannot show proof of vaccination against certain diseases including mumps, measles, pertussis, influenza type B, and hepatitis B.
  • Is determined to have a physical or mental disorder that may pose, or has posed, a threat to the safety, welfare, or property of the foreign national or of others.
  • Is determined to be an addict or abuser of illicit drugs.


Criminal Activity

A foreign national is ineligible for a U.S. visa if he or she has been:

  • Convicted of, or has admitted to committing, a crime involving moral turpitude. There isn't a concrete definition of what constitutes moral turpitude, although crimes such as fraud fall into the category.
  • Determined to be an illicit trafficker of a controlled substance, or the foreign national is the spouse or child of a trafficker who benefited financially from the trafficking. Note that federal law provides an exemption for a one-time conviction of possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana.
  • Found to have engaged in the illicit trafficking of firearms or destructive devices.
  • Convicted of two or more offenses of any kind except for purely political ones, for which the total penalty was a prison term of five years or more.
  • Involved in prostitution, either directly or indirectly, within the past ten years of the date of the visa application.
  • Found to have committed a serious criminal offense in the U.S., but who exercised immunity from criminal prosecution (for example, a foreign diplomat who commits a serious crime, but who was not prosecuted due to diplomatic immunity, will likely be ineligible for any subsequent U.S. visa).
  • Involved in, or knowingly benefited from, human trafficking.
  • Involved in money laundering activities, including as a conspirator or abettor.


Security Concerns

A foreign national is ineligible for a U.S. visa if the USCIS reasonably believes the national to be:

  • Entering the U.S. to participate in espionage, sabotage, to steal sensitive information or technology, or to overthrow the government.
  • Engaged in terrorism, associated with a terrorist organization, or someone who endorses or espouses terrorist activity.
  • A person whose entry would have negative foreign policy consequences for the U.S.


Public Charge

A visa applicant who is likely to become a public charge, meaning that he or she is likely to become dependent on government assistance upon entry into the U.S., may be ineligible for a visa.

Prior Removal or Violation of Immigration Laws

Foreign nationals who have previously violated immigration laws, such as by entering the U.S. illegally or by falsifying information in a previous visa application, are ineligible for visas. There are exceptions, however, such as for battered women and children who petition to stay in the U.S. despite having expired visas.

Waiver of Ineligibility

Certain aliens who are otherwise ineligible for a visa may be able to obtain a waiver of ineligibility. The U.S. Attorney General has discretion whether to grant a waiver to a visa applicant.

Getting Legal Help

There are many legal issues and exceptions that affect visa eligibility. For example, if a family member of a visa applicant has laundered money, whether the applicant knew, or should have known, about the laundering will affect his or her eligibility. Also, waivers of ineligibility are granted on a case-by-case basis, and whether an applicant obtains a waiver depends on the facts involved and on how the applicant is able to present his or her case.

If you have questions about visa ineligibility, it's important that you consult with an experienced immigration lawyer.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.

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