Reasons for Tourist Visa Rejection and mistakes to avoid!

Having traveled to 37 countries and few more in pipeline, a lot of my time and money has gone in preparing and submitting visa applications. Having a developing country passport implies we would need visa for most nations and the process is almost always complicated, loaded with too much paperwork, frustrating and often carries a risk of being rejected despite doing everything we are asked to do.

Understanding why Visa gets rejected
Visa rejection, if and when it happens to us, hurts. Like any other rejection- be it job interview, marriage proposal or a business deal negotiation, rejection is part of life. In this post I am trying to explain the rationale behind visa processing, thought process that goes into making a decision and what you can do to minimize chances of rejection. This is a long post but might just better your chances of getting the visa if you read, understand and follow.
Having to apply for visa for every other country is itself a painful process for people of nationalities that doesn’t offer a strong passport. Indians can visit around 50-70 countries without visa or with very simple visa process and will have to apply for visa for the remaining 130+ countries. Each country has its own process, timelines, requirements and assessment structure so it is hard to generalize visa processing. But often, applying for any visa requires you to provide lots of paperwork- tickets and bookings, proof of funds, motive to return to home country etc. Despite providing all these, many applications are routinely rejected. Sometimes reason is explained, most of the times, no explanation is given. Let us understand this process in a bit detail:

The need for visa:
Most developed countries have less population but higher per capita income than developing countries. They often have stronger currencies, better standard of living, infrastructure and governance. Because of these, such countries are often a target of economic migration-people from poorer economies trying to migrate to a richer economy in the hope of earning more and better their standard of living. But having uncontrolled influx of people will spoil everything the developed countries have established- it will risk job opportunities for locals, dilute quality of life etc, put pressure on public infrastructure and government policies. Thus most of these countries have set up a visa system to ensure that only genuine tourists, qualified students/authorized workers enter the country.

The job of an embassy is NOT to issue visa to everyone who applies for one. Visa violators put lots of pressure on immigration and border protection departments- trying to search for them, deport them etc takes lots of manpower, money and resources. Thus an embassy's job is to identify potential troublemakers (visa over-stayers, those who tend to seek work or might not return etc) and nip the problem in the bud by refusing them visa. However, there’s no way to know every applicant in person or read an applicant’s mind so as to identify his/her true intentions. Thus visa officers need to make a decision based on their expertise, information provided in the application, past experiences and guidelines/policies of their respective governments. Countries that depend a lot on tourist revenues often will have simpler visa process whereas economically well off countries enforce a lot stricter visa norms.

Thus when you apply for a tourist visa, it undergoes following checks
Your identity: Who you are, what you do: Your credibility and potential as a genuine tourist is critical. Any known offences, previous history of violating visa rules, any criminal background etc could reduce your chances. Most of us clear this check without much of an issue- but pay attention to what you fill in the application-hiding material info would work against you, any careless entry can also get you into trouble. For example, every visa application would have a question asking if you are a terrorist or if you are linked to any terror organization. This question is pointless because no terrorist will volunteer to declare that he is a terrorist and wants to visit and bomb your country. But assume by mistake you say “Yes” to this question, for rest of your life you could be blacklisted.

Purpose of visit: This is very crucial. Visa process varies depending on if you are seeking a tourist visa or business visa or work permit or permanent residency etc. You need to select right purpose and follow subsequent guidelines. Note that the purpose/visa type should be selected by the applying individual- travel agents or VFS etc are not supposed to advise you on this. Getting a tourist visa and trying to find a job might get you in trouble. Purpose of visit or visa type is not an issue for regular tourists- but if your purpose is slightly unusual- like going to perform a comedy show against payment, doing professional photography for which you will be paid etc might require work permit. If in doubt call up n check with Embassy helpline or write a detailed cover letter.

Details of your visit: You should be able to supplement your purpose of visit with details like flight tickets, hotel confirmations, itinerary etc. Sometimes this is a painful process- like if you have planned a month long itinerary for Europe, providing hotel booking and itinerary for every day 3 months in advance might be inconvenient. But it is a necessary evil. Do not show fake reservations but usually reservations that allow free cancellations are fine. Your plan should be realistic.

Financials: You should be able to support your trip financially or have a sponsor and still have enough funds to lead a normal life once back home. There is no fixed formula on how much bank balance you should have but do the maths yourself- your trip expense+ at least 1 year worth of monthly expenses is ideal.

Motive to return home: This aspect is crucial. No one wants a tourist to settle permanently. Because many people from poorer economies often get tourist visa and then never return, providing evidence that you have a strong motive to return home is crucial. It could be job, family ties, physical assets etc. If you're unable to show enough attachment to home country, better to wait till you develop a few.

Any applicable government guidelines
  • China will not issue tourist visa to people from Arunachal Pradesh because it considers AP as disputed territory. 
  • Recently China said it won't give visa to Indians visiting Kailash Manasarovar Yatra [Details] after Article 370 suspension
  • If you have visited war ravaged countries, many other countries will be scared to give you visa
  • If you have visited some enemy countries, many countries might refuse visa
  • Those who work in sensitive areas- like military, nuclear science etc might undergo extreme scrutiny even for regular tourist visa
  • There will be several other government guidelines, policies etc- some stated, some unstated- if you match some of those criteria you might be refused visa
Human factor:
Visa officers have lots of discretionary powers. What our fellow citizens have done in the past could contribute to a mindset that people from this nation are bad tourists or high risk tourists, reducing our chances of approval, even if your intention was genuine. Visa officers are generally required to assess each application based on its own merit. But if they see a pattern or when past experience is overwhelming a generic perception can cloud the judgment.

Examples: Many illegal migrants use Colombia-Panama-Costa Rica-Mexico route to enter USA. So immigration officers here are very suspicious of your real motives, particularly if you don’t have USA visa and your intention to visit their country seems very odd.
Georgia had lots of examples of denying entry to Indians and deporting them back.

Even reasonably well known people have faced visa rejection from US/UK/Europe etc often without receiving any explanations.

How to minimize your chances of visa rejection:
Read the entire application carefully and fill without any mistake/omission or errors. Cross check before submitting. It is always better to fill your application yourself than asking someone else to help.

#1 Avoid gaming the system- If you check on internet/quora etc there’re lots of tips available- like a 10$ flight ticket that cancels itself or various other means to game the system. My advise: Don’t take these shortcuts. Honesty is best policy. Visa officers are aware of most of the common tricks and trying to hoodwink them could not only result in refusal, submitting fraudulent document could result in long term ban or even prosecution. Embassy can verify every information you have provided- your bank statements, job details, flight tickets, sponsor's credentials and so on. Any misrepresentation will cost you dearly. If you have some unusual scenarios, write a cover letter and explain your case, purpose of visit etc to help the officers understand your application better.

#2 Avoid technical errors: Such as not translating a document to English, uploading documents which are poorly scanned and not readable, missing some pages/parts of the documents, mismatch between information provided and supporting documents (example: savings declared vs what bank balance shows), having unrealistic itineraries or providing details of a sponsor who is not reachable, Damaged passports, not having blank pages or enough validity and various other minor mistakes can be avoided by being careful and following all instructions.

#3 Trip duration: Don’t plan a super long trip unless absolutely necessary. Longer trips mean more funds, more details, more scrutiny. Most visas usually allow a max stay of 30 days. In some cases it could be higher like 90 or 180 days per entry. Know this typical duration and try to wrap up your trip with a few days to spare, than seeking a more than normal entry duration.

#4 Keep your social media accounts clean. You never know who visits them and form an impression about you. Many consulates now increasingly referring to social media to assess a person. Keep your profiles clean- no filthy language, no anti national/extremist views etc. [Read this news]

#5 Calculate savings required with lots of buffer: You might be able to live on extreme budget sleeping on the floor and surviving on water and air- but while applying, you should check if you have enough savings a typical tourist needs- calculate normal cost of living in that country- approx rent for 1 night hotel stay, 3 meals, some travel expenses, entry fee to couple of attractions and some buffer- multiply this by no of days you plan to visit and number of people. This total amount should be your disposable income- meaning after deducting this you should have enough savings to lead a normal life back in India. Don’t underestimate the power of savings.

#6 Think like a Visa officer- are you worthy of visiting their country? Like you’ve not even visited neighboring Srilanka/Thailand once and you want to go direct to USA? Your savings are barely enough to support your living in India for a few months-can you really afford a Europe trip?

Is there anything in your application that is not clear, may cause confusion or not convincing enough requiring additional clarity/proof?

If you sense you may not qualify, better to defer your travel plans till your situation improves, than plan a trip and risk visa rejection.

#7 Book refundable itinerary: The cheapest tickets, hotel reservation options could be often non refundable. If you have an iota of doubt that your visa might be rejected, book a flexible ticket or hotel room which allows cancellation, probably against a small fee. This will reduce your loss.

#8 Avoid well known scenarios:
  1. Applying tourist visa for entire family without a strong salary/lots of properties has high chance of rejection vs you applying solo or with partner alone. If parents/spouse are back in India it is a strong motive to return
  2. Applying tourist visa right after college with empty passport-might also give a suspicion that you might look for work. Travel to visa free countries initially, get a job, get some savings, then apply.
  3. If you are unemployed and don’t have enough savings work on it-either get a sponsor or defer the plan till you build up enough savings to support your trip.
  4. Don't apply to same country again n again. Visiting again n again without enough gap and a convincing reason would result in an impression that you might be working or living in that country.
Once you get the Visa
Congrats. But please make not of key details- number entries, number of days allowed per entry, expiry date, restrictions/remarks, effective from etc. Confirm that these are good for your intended travel plan.

What to do if your visa application is rejected?
1 Respect and move on. Being allowed to visit another country is not our right. It is a privilege. If we are not welcome in some countries we should learn to move on. You can rant on social media, write public letter to ambassador of that country etc- none of that is going to make an impact. My advise- move on. Go where you’re welcome than trying to visit a country that doesn’t want you.

There’re 200+ countries in the world. Most of us with middle class income and meager savings barely manage to visit 20-30 countries in our lifetime. Some well traveled folks managed 30-50, even fewer have managed 50-100 countries. You will find very few people who have traveled to 100+ countries. So even if half the countries in the world are to deny visa, there’s still enough other countries we can visit in our lifetime. So don’t worry about visa rejection.

2 Introspect: If a reason for rejection is explained then it is good. Else you can try to figure out what would have gone wrong. If this is something you can rectify (like if your savings is an issue you can reapply after few years) you can try again in future.

3. Don't take it personally. Those who took the decision won't know you personally and will have nothing against you. They were doing their job, taking a decision based on the circumstances presented to them and guidelines they had to enforce. It is unfortunate the decision didn't go in your favor. There's more to life than visiting a specific country. Many countries will have a review process- a senior officer will be consulted before finalizing a 'Reject' decision. A different country or a different officer would have probably decided in your favor- you never know. Like I said earlier, move on to next destination on your bucket list.

Disclaimer: Generic information from personal observations only. Not aimed at any specific country and not an official document in anyway. No assurance can be given and no liabilities are accepted. Please read and comply with guidelines from specific countries while applying.

All the best for your travel dreams.

Related: UK Tourist visa 2019 for Indians * Bangladesh Tourist visa from Chennai * Ajay Sood's post on Romania visa * Vietnam tourist visa for Indians * China tourist visa for Indians * Understanding Transit Visa requirements *

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