“Innocent until proven guilty” is a well-known and cherished concept, so we don’t often expect to experience legal consequences until we’ve had our day in court or accepted a plea agreement in connection with alleged illegal activity. Temporary visitors and workers in the United States are not afforded that same expectation when it comes to their visa validity.
The U.S. Department of State (“State Department”) has begun automatic revocation of nonimmigrant visa stamps when visitors or other temporary nonimmigrants are arrested for DWI or DUI offenses. One client reported being notified of visa revocation the day after his arrest for DWI.
Clients are surprised to hear that an arrest alone can lead to almost immediate visa revocation. Many practitioners are puzzled as well, because most single DWI and DUI offenses do not make a person inadmissible to the United States. Nevertheless, the State Department has confirmed it will revoke visas even before a guilty plea or conviction for DWI or DUI. Revoking the visa stamp ensures the individual must appear again before the U.S. Consulate abroad for an in-person interview before returning to the United States.
What does this mean? First of all, it does not mean the individual’s current status in the U.S. is revoked. Rather, it means that the visa stamp in his or her passport is no longer valid for travel to the United States. Because a valid visa stamp is required to reenter the United States after international travel, it impacts visa holders when they travel abroad.
Applicants traveling abroad after a DWI or DUI arrest generally will be required to appear before an approved physician for an evaluation to determine whether there is a health-related ground of inadmissibility. The physician will evaluate for signs of drug or alcohol dependency or other indicators that the applicant might be a threat to self or others in the United States. The physician will report the findings to the U.S. Consulate, where the information will be taken under advisement in issuing a new visa.
In summary, most visa applicants will have to deal with the expense of legal fees for the criminal proceedings and the anxiety that criminal proceedings entail, as well as the additional hassle and expense of an extra trip to the U.S. Consulate abroad, a formal, physician evaluation for chemical or alcohol dependency, a delay in visa issuance, and the embarrassment of explaining delays in visa issuance to his or her employer.
The bottom line is, if there weren’t already enough incentive to designate a driver, for visa holders this new State Department policy should do the trick. Even if a visa holder did not commit a DWI or DUI and the criminal charge is dropped or the visa holder is found innocent, the initial arrest alone would have been sufficient reason under this new policy to revoke the visa for purposes of international travel.