Thousands Seek U.S. Visas
“A nation with secure borders and open doors” –these words to describe the United States are repeatedthroughout the visa section of the U.S. StateDepartment’s Web site.But to the approximately 20,000 Costa Ricanswho are denied entry into the United States everyyear, after a lengthy wait and a more than $100 tab,“open doors” might be a stretch.Still, most Ticos who want to visit the UnitedStates are allowed, according to the U.S. Consul inSan José.Approximately two-thirds of visitor visa applicationsin Costa Rica are accepted, Consul RobinMorritz recently told The Tico Times. Applicants whoare rejected have failed to prove they will not stayindefinitely in the United States as illegal immigrants,she added.Although consul officials said they do not havespecific statistics on the number of visa applicants in2003 or 2004, they said they believe applications areon the rise in Costa Rica. The quantity fluctuates fromyear to year, and often depends on the economic conditionshere, Morritz said.A report on the U.S. State Department Web site,with which the consul said she was not familiar, statesthat slightly more than 40,000 visitor (non-immigrant)visas were granted to Costa Ricans in 2002, the mostrecent year statistics are available. This is the lowestnumber of visas granted in 10 years, which between1993 and 2001 fluctuated around 50,000 per year.The number of Costa Ricans residing illegally inthe United States may be increasing,according to a recent report by the dailyLa Nación. While 70,000 Ticos were registeredlegally in the United States in the2000 census, consuls throughout the countryestimate the Tico expatriate populationnow at 220,000, the daily reported.Some Costa Ricans living illegally inthe United States arrived with tourist visasand never left. Others were rejected whenthey applied and turned to coyotes tosmuggle them across the Mexican borderfor a fee of $4,000-$6,000.ACCORDING to U.S. law, anyonewho wants to touch ground in the UnitedStates, even en route to another country, ispresumed to have plans to stay permanentlyand must apply for a visa. The burden ofproof is on visa applicants to prove theyhave no intention of staying in the UnitedStates.The cost of applying for a non-immigrantvisa is $100 – more than a week’ssalary for a Tico earning minimum wage –and is not refunded if an application isrejected.“Since Sept. 11, there are a number ofnew security checks … the $100 fee ismeant to recoup the costs for each applicant,”Morritz explained.The cost of requesting an immigrantvisa, which allows somebody to stay permanentlyin the United States, is $335.This is reserved primarily for familymembers of U.S. residents and citizens.VISA applicants must present evidenceof social, familial and economicties to Costa Rica, such as bank accountstatements, car and/or home ownershipdocuments and proof of salaries, pensionsor savings.Still, even somebody who has a house,a family and a job might not necessarily beadmitted, said Vice-Consul Sharon AnnWeber, who conducts visa interviews.Each applicant’s personal circumstancesare taken into account, she continued.Likewise, The Tico Times is aware ofcases in which Costa Ricans have received10-year visas despite not having jobs,homes, a spouse or children.“I don’t understand why,” 62-year-oldManuel Rojas told The Tico Times outsidethe U.S. Embassy building in PavasTuesday morning, after learning his visaapplication was rejected. “I just wanted togo visit, to see the Statue of Liberty andthat zoo in New Jersey. I was just told no,without explanation.”THIS is the first time Rojas, who livesin the town of Buenos Aires in theSouthern Zone and knows no one in theUnited States, has applied for a U.S. visa.He said he won’t try again.“I have my own little finca here, myfamily, my children. I have money in thebank, money to travel. I wouldn’t want tostay there. It’s too cold, too cold for me,”Rojas said.When questioned by The Tico Timesabout specific qualifications necessary fora visa, Weber said repeatedly that applicantsmust show they have a reason toreturn to Costa Rica.Luis Delgado, 24, a resident ofEscazú, was recently granted a 10-yearvisa, and said he plans to visit friends inWashington, D.C., and Colorado sometimesoon. He said at his visa interview heshowed his father’s income-tax paymentform and letters from his two employers –CEFSA and The Nature Conservancy –stating they anticipated his return.Delgado, who is single and has nochildren, said he has held long-term visasin the past, and may attempt to study in theUnited States.CONSUL officials say approval andrefusal decisions are consistent amongconsular officers conducting interviewsbecause they receive ongoing training.Furthermore, since the Sept. 11, 2001attacks on the United States, interviewershave been trained to detect applicants withconnections to terrorism.“We do interview techniques. We haveinformation at our disposal,” Weber said.The number of rejections for visarequests from Costa Rica has notincreased since Sept. 11, 2001, becausethe country is not known for breeding terrorists,consul officials said.Every visa applicant – whether it is fora tourist, diplomatic, work, student orimmigrant visa – must interview with oneof three interviewer officers at the consul.WITH visa applicants pouring inevery day, getting an appointment for aninterview takes approximately 99 days,consular officials said.“Plan ahead. For example, if somebodyis thinking now of spending nextChristmas in the United States, theyshould ask for an interview in the nextcouple of months,” Morritz advised.Emergency appointments are available,particularly for study abroad studentsand those with medical emergencies.“Any person who feels they have anemergency can send a fax (applying for animmediate appointment),” Morritz said.People who have been denied a visacan reapply once in a 12-month period.The growing number of applicantscontributes to the backlog of appointments.Each interviewer sees a caseload of 60 to 120 interviews a day, according to Morritz.Weber would not give an estimate on howlong most interviews last, saying only thatit is sufficient time for an interview officerto make a decision.After an interview, officers make same daydecisions on every case.Successful applicants can be awardeda visa that lasts as long as 10 years. Thisdoes not mean a visa holder can go to theUnited States for a decade. The visa is justpermission to apply for entry into theUnited States.Department of Homeland Security officersat the end of immigration lines in U.S.airports are the ones who ultimately decidehow long a Costa Rican visitor can stay inthe United States.They may stamp a passport for severalweeks or several months.If a visa holder returns to the UnitedStates too often within a given amount oftime, a Homeland Security officer couldpotentially deny entry.SOME Costa Ricans who overstayedtheir allowed time in the United States,told the daily La Nación they went to CostaRica’s Immigration Department and paidto have their passports stamped with areturn date before the date they actuallyreturned and within their allowed time.Morritz said the consulate has caughtcases in which this has happened.“A person who commits fraud becomesineligible for a visa to the United States,”she said, “virtually forever.”The consul said she is not concernedabout the increasing number of Costa Ricansstaying illegally in the United States.“It has always been a factor. It is inevery country,” she said.THE United States offers an immigrantvisa lottery internationally everyyear, in which 50,000 foreigners are grantedthe opportunity to live permanently inthe United States.In the 2005 lottery drawing, 24 CostaRicans won immigrant visas, according toMorritz.Any Costa Rican with a high-schooldiploma or equivalent can enter the “green card”lottery.To make an appointment or ask questionsfor a non-immigrant visa, call 900-1-VISA-USA, at a cost of ¢1,500 ($3.22).Emergency interview requests can be sentby fax to 220-2455.More information on visas can befound on the U.S. Embassy’s Web siteusembassy.or.cr.
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