USCIS, DHS, ICE, Department of State and other immigration authorities are now following the new policy regarding the individuals who have alcohol-related charges, arrests or offenses. Immigrants should keep in mind the consequences of having even one alcohol related criminal charge or offense, which means that USCIS possibly can find them ineligible for an extension of status, change of status, adjustment of status request.
In some cases (not always) it could be possible to leave the U.S.A. and apply for a visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad. However, U.S. Consulates abroad can require applicants to be evaluated by a designated panel physician who will evaluate whether the visa applicant has a physical or mental disorder associated with alcohol use that may pose a threat to the property, safety or welfare of others in the United States.
It should be noted that the U.S. Consulates are now often revoking already issued and valid visas of affected foreign nationals when they receive a law enforcement report of a DUI-related arrest or conviction regardless of whether individuals are in the United States or abroad at the time. A person can receive a phone call or email asking him or her to come to the U.S. Consulate with a passport (no explanations given), so a visa can be physically revoked (cancelled). Most people are unaware that their visas are revoked until they try to return to the United States after travel abroad. Some people with alcohol-related charges receive letters from the U.S. Department of State notifying them of their visa revocation.
Because these negative consequences are result of the health-related ground of inadmissibility, it means that no conviction is necessary (arrest and charged are enough).
Until recently, the only affected groups of people were the visa holders with a single alcohol-related arrest or conviction within the last five years, or two or more alcohol-related arrests or convictions.
Under the current policy, it only takes a single alcohol-related charge to trigger action by U.S. authorities. USCIS is now identifying alcohol-related offenses and denying requests for an extension of status in any visa classification.
Until recently and before this policy change, U.S. Consulates only referred visa holders to a panel physician for evaluation when a new visa application was made. Now, U.S. Consulates are responding to law enforcement reports proactively by revoking the already approved and issued visas of anyone who has an alcohol-related charge even in situations where an individual hasn’t made a new visa application.
If USCIS denied an application for extension or change of status, the applicant will have to leave the country and apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad, in his home country. “Every nonimmigrant alien who applies for admission to, or an extension of stay in, the United States must establish that he or she is admissible to the United States, or that any ground of inadmissibility has been waived.” In other words, it is an applicant's burden to prove that he/she is not inadmissible.
An alcohol-related charge is a health ground of inadmissibility, which means that a conviction is not required and charges alone can trigger inadmissibility. Visa holders affected by this rule are not removable (not deportable on this ground) from the United States.
If a visa is denied, can a visa applicant file an appeal of denial of a Visa Application at the U.S. Consulate abroad? No, you can't appeal a visa denial. There is no appeal process to challenge a consular officer’s decision to deny a visa application. The doctrine of "nonreviewability of consular decisions" was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 in the case Kerry v. Din .
Another important moment to keep in mind is that neither the visa applicant nor the attorney can review the panel physician’s medical report.
What else can be done? People can ask for an Advisory Opinion from the Department of State’s Visa Office. Also, visa applicants can dispute the findings of the panel physician by asking the consular officer to request an Advisory Opinion from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which the consular officer can refuse to do without recourse. Both of these options take a lot of time. As a result, most of the nonimmigrant visa applicants have to obtain a nonimmigrant waiver of inadmissibility through the DHS, which could take six months or longer to process, and during this time the visa applicant has to wait abroad. Approval of any immigrant or nonimmigrant visa waiver is not guaranteed.
During October 19, 2017 meeting, AILA asked the US Department of State Liaison Committee and the Visa Office the following question:
"AILA has received reports of visa holders whose visas were prudentially revoked for DUI arrests while they are in the United States being charged by ICE as removable under INA §237(a)(1)(B), for being physically present in the United States with a revoked nonimmigrant visa. Based on our previous conversations, it is our understanding that a prudential revocation only becomes effective once the alien departs the United States. Has VO discussed this issue with DHS? If prudential revocations are now leading to the initiation of removal proceedings, would VO be willing to revisit the issue to ensure that the prudential revocation only precludes future travel to the United States?"
DoS answer: "We’ve discussed this with ICE, and there has not been a policy change."
New USCIS waiver policy memorandum (08/23/2017).
Updated USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 7, Physical or Mental Disorders.
Nonimmigrant waiver application.
Immigrant waiver application.