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Citizens from rich countries are more likely to get US visas

Youyou Zhou
By Youyou Zhou

Things reporter

From our Obsession

Global Economic Disruptions

Globalization, automation, and inequality.

To come to the US for business, tourism, or medical treatment, many travelers need to obtain a B visa. The travel document accounted for three of every four non-immigration visas the US issued since 2015.

It’s not just a formality. In fiscal year 2019, which ran from October 2018 through September 2019, US embassies and consulates around the world denied 28% of B-visa applications. The application costs $160 to submit, regardless of where you are in the world. That was, of course, before travelers faced the restrictions and scrutiny intended to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Quartz analyzed the B-visa denial rates of countries where more than 10 visas were issued in fiscal year 2019 and found that US short-term travel visas were more likely to be given to nationals of richer countries, than those from poorer ones.

Generally, citizens of the 39 countries part of the “visa waiver” program don’t need to apply for a B visa to travel to the US for business, leisure or transit for less than 90 days. Those people aren’t reflected in these data.

Travelers from those visa-free countries who need to stay longer still have to apply for a visa. As do people who have recently traveled to, or are also citizens of, certain countries.

The wealth of a visitor’s home country is certainly not the ultimate reason US officials deny visas. Officially, the most common reason is “failure to establish entitlement to nonimmigrant status.” It accounted for over three fourths of the rejections last year.

It’s the reason immigration officials use when they think the applicant is likely to stay permanently in the US rather than leaving before their visa expires.

A number of countries saw their visa refusal rate increase significantly between 2015 and 2019, as their geopolitical relationship with the US deteriorated.

The US pulled out from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, bombed Libya targeting Islamic State terrorists in 2016, imposed sanctions on Venezuela in 2017, listed Chad as one of the travel ban countries in 2017, and added Nigeria to the travel ban list in January 2020.

Here’s what the chance of getting a travel visa to the US looks like across the globe:

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