An immigrant visa applicant sporting a tattoo may be questioned about it. The presence of tattoos (or evidence of their removal) is noted during the required medical exam. This may lead a consular officer to suspect the applicant has gang affiliations or has abused drugs.
Some applicants say their visas have been improperly denied on the basis that they are “gang associates” who intend to enter the United States to engage in unlawful conduct. [a] Other applicants say their cases have been referred to the Visa Office, taking months or even years to clear. [b] The State Department’s position is that a tattoo may be one piece of evidence as to whether an applicant is a security risk but that refusals for security reasons are based on the totality of evidence, including the applicant’s criminal and immigration records. The State Department confirms that tattoos are a concern for applicants from a number of countries. [c]
It can be difficult to discern whether tattoos are gang identifiers. For example, Rolando Mora-Huerta was denied a visa based on evidence that he had once been stopped by police in a car driven by a man with a “Brown Pride” tattoo. The police suspected the driver of ties to the Sureno gang, who were known to have similar tattoos. Mora was unsuccessful in arguing that the tattoo merely symbolizes pride in Latino heritage. [d]
In another scenario, some applicants say that consular officers have, upon seeing tattoos (for example, a tattoo of a marijuana leaf), referred them for psychological interviews to investigate drug abuse. In some cases, following such exams, visas have been denied, even for one-time marijuana use. [e]
Immigration lawyers may work with clients to document that tattoos are not gang related or that any gang affiliation has ended, and to prepare clients for related questions during the medical exam and consular interview.
Has your appreciation for body art impacted your visa application? Let us know in the comment section.
[a] AILA-U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Liaison Meeting Minutes, Dec. 10, 2013; AILA-U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Liaison Meeting Minutes, Apr. 27, 2012. The statute, INA 212(a)(3)(A)(ii), allows visa refusals if an officer has “reasonable grounds to believe” the applicant seeks to enter the U.S. to engage in unlawful activity. Such refusals require concurrence from the State Department.
[b] Davis, Tonello, et al., Update on the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, Dec. 2012.
[c] AILA-U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Liaison Meeting Minutes, Aug. 21, 2012.
[d] Cardenas v. United States, 826 F.3d 1164 (9th Cir. 2016).
[e] Davis, Tonello, et al., Update on the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, Dec. 2012.