U.S. Visa Application Questions

People applying for a visa to enter the United States have to answer these questions (among others):

Have you ever been arrested of convicted for any offense or crime, even through subject of a pardon, amnesty or other similar legal action? Have you ever unlawfully distributed or sold a controlled substance (drug), or been a prostitute or procurer for prostitutes?

[...]

Did you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose? Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State? Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government or Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide?

Certainly, anyone who is a terrorist or drug dealer wouldn't worry about lying on his visa application. So, what's the point of these questions? I used to think it was so that if someone is convicted of one of these activities he can also be convicted of visa-application fraud...but I'm not sure that explanation makes any sense.

Anyone have any better ideas? What is the security benefit of asking these questions?

Posted on September 25, 2006 at 7:26 AM

Comments

T. HudsonSeptember 25, 2006 7:52 AM

They probably have about as much value as the "did you pack these bags yourself" question that used to be asked when checking luggage at the airport. It always seemed that someone who had deliberately packed a bomb in his luggage could truthfully answer that, yes, he had packed the bags himself.

ChrisSeptember 25, 2006 7:55 AM

Bureaucratic backside-covering is about all that I can imagine. No rational person could possibly believe that these questions will stop a terrorist.

GuidoSeptember 25, 2006 8:00 AM

We all assume terrorists are smart...there are a lot of dumb ones. This line of questioning most likely is thought to possibly snag some low hanging fruit. Don't forget the questions were written by some bureaucrat who doesn't want his CNN moment to start with 'did you ask him if if was a terrorist', and the answer is "NO" ;-)

starwedSeptember 25, 2006 8:05 AM

Interestingly enough, I think they still ask you if you're a communist (or if you even associate with communists) when applying for citizenship. Certainly, they did when my sister was considering applying a few years back.

Søren MorsSeptember 25, 2006 8:07 AM

More or less the same questions appear on the Visa Waiver Form that citizens from friendly countries can use instead of getting a real Visa.

The first time I entered the US in the late 80's I was also asked whether I had in any way assisted the german army in the period 1933-1945. That question had disappeared when I was in California in 2002.

Since the Visa Vaiwer form is normally completed on the plane, how am i supposed to verify that none of the organizations that I am a member of have been designated as terrorist organization? I don't think asking the flight attendant for an up-to-date list is going to increase my chances of being granted entry into the US.

B.W. McAdamsSeptember 25, 2006 8:16 AM

Better question:

What's the reaction to a "yes" question for prostitution?

Numerous countries, Germany included, have legalized prostitution in recent years. Is one precluded from entering the US for engaging in acts that are legal in their home country?

Sammy The SurferSeptember 25, 2006 8:17 AM

The funniest bit is that it asks if they seek to enter the US to engage in terrorist activities. So-called terrorists don't think of themselves as such since they believe they're freedom fighters or patriots, so, ironically, they can truthfully answer that question as no.

The questions themselves are totally CYA. Like Guido said, someone doesn't want to get caught allowing someone into the country who meant harm without first asking that question. It's too bad they won't let applicants print out the form. It would be interesting to see a tick-mark in the "yes" box, followed by a hasty eraser mark and a new tick in the "no" box.

HaninahSeptember 25, 2006 8:19 AM

I think that part of the logic at least is that if the authorities uncover some dirt on you with regard to one of these issues, they can immediately have you deported or arrested for lying on your visa application, whether or not they can reach the standard of proof needed to prove the more serious crime underlying (e.g., they can deport that eastern European professor when they find out he was a member of the Communist Party, without having to prove conclusively that he was sent to the US by the KGB in order to commit espionage). This would have been more of an issue, of course, back when they actually felt restrained by due process considerations in such decisions.

MartinESeptember 25, 2006 8:22 AM

1. to instill "appropriate" fear of the majesty of the US Govt. 2. to get people to perjure themselves to give the USG an easy way to deport them later. 3. to show the voters that the feds are "doing their job".

There seems to be near zero official incentive to be welcoming toward foreign visitors.

PaeniteoSeptember 25, 2006 8:22 AM

Couldn't it be that it is for liabilty reasons?
Imagine they don't ask and there is an attack. Couldn't the state department (or the appropriate agency) be liable for the damages because they did not even ask?

It could very well be that they are under some form of legal obligation to determine whether any foreigner entering the US has malicious intent.
Apparently it is enough to just ask.

When a terrorist bombs something in the US, they can pull out his questionnaire and show it: "Here, he stated that he would not do this kind of thing. We did not have evidence to prove this to be a lie and so we had to let him in."

Amit UpadhyaySeptember 25, 2006 8:27 AM

There is a logic behind such laws, I like to call it the "al capone measure": We do not have enough demonstrable evidence to prove his guilt for the cases we are pursuing him for, but we know for sure he evaded tax, and by God a person like him is not good walking free in society, please put him under jail on tax evasion.

For foreigners you do not have tax evasion line, or many other. Visa rules like this may be the last resort.

Ofcourse it can be misused, but I think this is what the judge/jury is for, and we should keep our faith intact in humanity for if that itself is gone, nothing is left.

MartinSeptember 25, 2006 8:28 AM

Societies often put down obivous things in writing. Why? To limit the validity of the ignorance-argument - "Oops, I didn't know that".
Roads have speed limits posted, although it should be part of drivers ed to know what the maximal safe speed is based on the road, its condition and surroundings - but it's much too tedious for the police to take you to court and prove that you drove faster than you knew was safe, rather than saying "the sign says 30, you drove 50, pay up". Sure, sometimes speedlimits are wrong, and thats where the democratic process comes into play. But it's not like these requirements on the visa application are unresonable? I've happily signed them three times now.

JeffSeptember 25, 2006 8:29 AM

I don't think that its to add an extra conviction. That occurs at the end of the legal process. I think that it is to make things more efficient at the beginning of the process -- getting the arrest warrant and detaining the individual.

If the govt finds evidence that an applicant lied on their application, that is sufficient reason in and of itself to arrest and prosecute. Lying on the application is a federal offense. You don't need to prove bad intent, plans for terrorist plots, anything else. The lie is sufficient and much easier to prove than a current ongoing plot.

If you assume that the goal is to get terrorists off the street as quickly as possible, this makes perfect sense. While it is politically important to convict a terrorist of terrorism, it is more important to convict them of SOMETHING. And while you're holding them for lying under oath, you can do the deep investigation required to try to prove an actual plot (if there is any).

Ian MasonSeptember 25, 2006 8:30 AM

The one that has always struck me as unfair is "Have you ever been arrested". Many people are arrested and then freed without charge. The implicit presumption of "arrested therefore somehow guilty" flies in the face of the presumption of innocence that is the core of all civilised criminal legal systems.

The issue of asking questions that a sane baddie would lie to is, I think, a deliberate attempt to set up an "Al Capone" offence. They can't prove that you intended harm to the US so they'll gaol you for lying about your littering arrest and subsequent release without charge.

John DoeSeptember 25, 2006 8:31 AM

My guess is that the questions are not aimed at terrorists, but other "undesirables". The questions place the burden on visitors to flag themselves for further scrutiny or perhaps just summary refusal of entry. If they lie about those questions, that would be grounds for arrest and deportation after they've entered the US.

dammitborisSeptember 25, 2006 8:31 AM

it's a hook for deportation. noone is actually expected to check, "yes," but if you don't and at a later time the govt can't convict you for whatever reason, they have the ability to go through with the administrative deportation process, and get you out of the country anyway.

RoxanneSeptember 25, 2006 8:32 AM

I have thought those questions were comment hooks.

I am often reminded of the book, "Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris," (Paul Gallico, 1959) when answering these questions. Mrs. Harris, a London charlady, winds up bringing back a $400K Dior dress in her luggage, smuggling it actually, and answers truthfully, "I got me a Dior dress!" when asked if she has anything to declare. The clerk doesn't believe her, and doesn't check, either. So it goes, in the world of Customs guards. If the question is too automatic, and the answer assumed, what good is any of it?

OTOH, back when I had to hire a secretary for a firm I worked for, I put in the ad, "Fax resume to..." and that was really a test to see if the candidate could get their hands on a fax machine, and follow directions. I think such questions could well point out people to engage in further conversation, depending on their answer, or lack thereof. It's like the cop who arrested Warren Jeffs: He was asking ordinary questions, and getting unusual responses; QED. *You, yourself* have said that this sort of thing is a good tool in the whole security process. :)

TristanSeptember 25, 2006 8:35 AM

I have always assumed that its to easily revoke the VISA if they turn out to be one of these things and they lied. It then invalidates the VISA.

Of course, nobody will answer 'yes' (although I've always wondered what 'immoral activities' are... but I've always thought it best not to ask...

RoxanneSeptember 25, 2006 8:35 AM

PS Would you feel better if they asked what books you'd read recently, or if you carried a Firearms Owner ID, or which religion you subscribed to? I think I'm happy they're just asking if I've ever been arrested.

KieranSeptember 25, 2006 8:41 AM

A friend of mine was ejected from the US when he went over for a wedding once, and admitted to having been arrested. He hadn't been charged, much less convicted - just arrested.

Surely lots of innocent people are arrested every day, only to be later released without charge... but the US doesn't like their type.

meSeptember 25, 2006 8:44 AM

Would you prefer that they didn't ask these questions? If nothing else it shows due dilligence on the governments part. Plus at least some of the questions people may be honest on, which could help you prioritize your queues. This holds even more true because I bet they don't or can't do background checks on everyone that comes into the country.

SeanSeptember 25, 2006 8:44 AM

It's all a sort of CYA that helps support sueability, kind of like the little checkbox question you get asked all the time on the sale of computers. Are you purchasing this computer to be shipped to a foreign country? Will this computer be shipped to (state department prohibitted country list)? Any normal person looks at it and thinks, "Huh?", and any person who wants to send it to the place thinks, "well, I need to get ahold of my grey market reshipper to get it smuggled out of the country, I just need to not get caught."

SuomynonaSeptember 25, 2006 8:46 AM

I must be irrational (See 2nd post above).

While this may be hard for Americans to believe, in some cultures it is absolutely unacceptable to lie. A terrorist might believe he is doing the right thing by committing the act of terrorism. But to get into heaven has to live a *pure life* - that includes not lying. A simple question like this can actually trip a terrorist up.

A previous associate of mine worked in East Timor the troubles. He said people were so honest, that you could confront a man who was suspected of brutally murdering his neighbour with a machete. He would be asked "did you kill this man?", the response was a timid "yes". It was more of a sin to lie, than to kill am man over ownership of the tree inbetween their houses.

Although the East Timor people are mainly Catholic, my point still stands Some cultures it is more of a sin to lie than to commit murder.

A'kosSeptember 25, 2006 8:48 AM

read the smallprint :-)
"...a YES answer does not automatically signify ineligibility for a visa..."

nzrussSeptember 25, 2006 8:51 AM

I have a problem with the grouping of questions:

Q: Have you ever been issued a parking ticket or speeding fine, or been involved in genocide, terrorism, ethnic cleansing or mass murder? Y/N

Alexandre Carmel-VeilleuxSeptember 25, 2006 8:51 AM

Probably an easy out to void the visa without going through much bureaucratic processes and appeals. Not so much an extra charge for prosecution later, more like "Do not pass go and take the next plane out of here."

JamesSeptember 25, 2006 8:53 AM

Since we're posting our favourite quotes, mine is this (from the Visa Waiver application form):

"Have you ever been arrested ... for a crime of moral turpitude?"

I *want* to say, "I'm not sure, do you have a dictionary?" but that would be in violation of Rule 1 of Immigration (Never Try To Be Funny To An Immigration Official).

LordRichSeptember 25, 2006 9:01 AM

Last time I flew to the US, they asked "is this your bag". I made the mistake of truthfully answering "no I'm borrowing it". The check in assistant replied "you're supposed to answer yes", grumbled a little and then got her supervisor to come and ask the same questions again.

So of course when I'm passing through Italy and they ask the same question I answer yes. Unfortunately it still had a few things in the side pockets belonging the original owner...

Erik NSeptember 25, 2006 9:15 AM

@T. Hudson:

I think the "Did you pack this bag yourself?" question is not directed towards preventing terrorism, but rather smugling: If you say yes, then you are liable for whatever is found inside - including any drugs you carry, as you then admit they cannot have been placed by someone else.

Erik NSeptember 25, 2006 9:22 AM

OK, so to determine whether it is useful to ask these questions: All the sept. 11 terrorist had to fill out a similar form (guess the questions were the same, or did terrorism get added later?) What did they anser?

Christophe ThillSeptember 25, 2006 9:34 AM

I think it's a measure calculated to limit foreign competition. The WTO should look into it.

lightmannSeptember 25, 2006 9:35 AM

I think it's a play for power. The knowledge that someone has lied under oath, no matter how reasonable it seemed at the time, gives one great power over them. Judges really don't like it when people lie under oath.

Johnny LawSeptember 25, 2006 9:35 AM

Are bad guys going to lie? Sure, but since making false statements to government agents or on government forms is a crime, these aren't stupid questions. It is a nice way to catch big fish with small tackle.

InerafSeptember 25, 2006 9:35 AM

That part about prostitution is interesting, considering that it's legal in many parts of Nevada.

ReasonableSeptember 25, 2006 9:38 AM

It is well known that the purpose of this is to enable quickly deporting people who violate these statements (as their visa was fraudulant and therefore invalid). I think it's a great idea.

Rod BegbieSeptember 25, 2006 9:41 AM

When I applied for my Green Card, I had to fill out a page of these type of Yes/No questions. (http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/files/i-485.pdf)

Then, when I went with my wife for the interview, the INS agent asked them to me out loud while recording.

When she got to "Do you intend to engage in the United States in any activity to overthrow the United States government?", my wife lost her shit and started giggling.

"You may well laugh," said the agent, "but we've caught people this way."

I didn't feel it was appropriate to ask "WHO?!".

MartynSeptember 25, 2006 9:43 AM

The "Visa Waiver" is quite a process now, involving filling in a form before you fly; another one on board, with all the ususal daft questions; then being photographed and fingerprinted on arrival. Why don't they just have done with it and make everyone queue up at the embassy and apply for a visa?

AlbertoSeptember 25, 2006 9:48 AM

I think this kind of questions are fairly standard, I've seen them a couple of times when flying to very different countries. My guess is they're there just to say "hey, I asked you and you lied", which is probably useful for some legal procedure.

But if you stop and think about the process of geting an USA visa, I guess you should be more concerned about the fact that people with AIDS can't enter USA, which is only an example of how ignorant, denigrating and insulting the process is.

DuncanSeptember 25, 2006 9:49 AM

The "Did you pack your bag yourself" question isn't aimed at terrorists or smugglers, it's aimed at people who are unwittingly carrying things for them. Someone may have asked you to carry a bag on to the plane and lied about what was really in it.

Carlo GrazianiSeptember 25, 2006 9:51 AM

Well, this sort of thing is hardly new. During the Cold War, under the provisions of the McCarran-Walters Act (dating to sometime in the early '50s, I believe), anyone applying for a U.S. visa had to answer questions about whether they had ever held a membership in a Communist organization. It was never clear what purpose this served, other than to underline the U.S. intellectual confusion that manifested itself as an inability to distinguish between the comical threat of communism and the real threat of Soviet military power.

I assume that only really stupid communists ever answered the question affirmatively on their applications.

BrianSeptember 25, 2006 9:53 AM

I believe, as others have said, the purpose of these questions is to allow for deportation of the questioned.

The consequent question is, under what circumstances would you want to deport someone you have determined is a "terrorist" rather than try them in the US?

KemayoSeptember 25, 2006 9:57 AM

""Have you ever been arrested ... for a crime of moral turpitude?"

I *want* to say, "I'm not sure, do you have a dictionary?" but that would be in violation of Rule 1 of Immigration (Never Try To Be Funny To An Immigration Official)."

I asked about that. In my interview for permanent residency, nonetheless.

The interviewer had to go find a dictionary herself, which amused me.

(For what it's worth, crimes of moral turpitude are those which involve "conduct that shocks the public conscience". The DoJ is quick to point out that claims this is unconstitutionally vague have been rejected: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/crm01934.htm )

DuncanSeptember 25, 2006 10:06 AM

You can just imagine it, immigration control is trying to be smart, but not really being smart. A conversation can be expected to go something like this:

Immigration Officer: "How are you? Had a nice time on holiday?"
Passenger: "Yes."
Immigration Officer: "Go to the Bahamas, sandy beaches?"
Passenger: "Yes."
Immigration Officer: "Had a lot of fun, sun and relaxation."
Passenger: "Yes."
Immigration Officer (casually): "Are you a terrorist?"
Passenger (brain turned off now): "Yes."
Immigration Officer: "A-HA!"

Brian (from 9:36 AM)September 25, 2006 10:08 AM

@Brian (from 9:53 AM)

Let's say that you believe someone is dangerous, but you don't have enough evidence to send them to prison. You've got three choices:

- let them walk (and hope they don't commit a terrorist act later.)
- keep investigating them, hoping they trip up and give you more evidence (while simultaneously hoping that they don't actually kill anybody.)
- deport them

Letting them walk is deemed risky, but continuing the investigation is expensive, possibly not worthwhile, and also carries some risk. So they get deported.

StephaneSeptember 25, 2006 10:21 AM

I've been asking myself that question since my first trip to the US... I was 8 at the time and I remember asking my father why they would ask such stupid questions.

Too bad I don't remember the answer he gave me. I could have used his wisdom now, I guess ;)

BTW, if I was arrested for speeding, would that could as "any offense or crime" ? What about a parking fine ?

tcSeptember 25, 2006 10:24 AM

Some random thoughts on the issue:

It kind of reminds me of the scene in Stripes, where Bill Murray and his friend are signing up for the army.

On the serious side, these are typical security related questions. They are often used for two purposes: (1) initial screening (to filter out ones who do actually answer truthfully and one doesn't want to grant access), and (2) For later revoking access, if needed, based on an easy, provable statement.

It reminds me of a DUI trial I was a jury participant on. Right before the breathalyzer test, after the officer read the suspect his Miranda rights, the officer asked the suspect if he felt is driving was impaired. The suspect answered "a little." This statement is all that was needed to demonstrate he broke the state's DUI law. It didn't matter if you believe in the breathalyzer (whether accurrate or not), nor whether the field sobriety tests are immissible (since the suspect hadn't been read his rights before giving the field sobriety tests).

What gets interesting is in higher levels of security access where individuals are regularly given polygraph tests, how do these types of answers come into play. Especially, when they may have been given years (decades) earlier.

Finally, wasn't it on an immigration charge that the government made an initial arrest of Mosseu (sp?) the terrorist caught in Minneapolis and who supposed to pilot another aircraft on 9/11. Sometimes these questions are handy in these cases.

falsepositiveSeptember 25, 2006 10:49 AM

You have to answer these questions every time you come to the US, not only when applying for a Visa. When I was 13 and travelled to Alaska with my family, my dad had to fill them out for me, which is even more absurd.

I (german, born '79) always wonder what would happen if I answer to 'Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government or Germany?' with "Yes". I'm always tempted to try it when I travel to the US, but I it's probably better that I don't dare...

Although, I think we should do it the other way round - ask every US citizen who comes to europe if he has killed native americans or owned a black slave. ;-)

ruidhSeptember 25, 2006 10:58 AM

I don't think I've been asked the "Have you packed your bag?" question lately. When travelling with my daughter, the answer would be "No." Her babysitter usually packs her bags for a trip.

AngelaSeptember 25, 2006 10:58 AM

I always think of some Italian friends I was visiting in the late '80's who complained about being asked on a U.S. visa application if they were members of the communist party or knew anybody who was. With a very active communist party in Italy, it was impossible NOT to know (or know of) at least one person who was a party member.

My friends were stumped as to how to answer this question. They were honest people, but they also wanted a visa with a minimum of unnecessary hassle.

They took the question as just another example of American paranoia, isolation and ignorance.

VetillesSeptember 25, 2006 11:04 AM

My favorite question on the I-94W form (entry form for people who don't need a visa) has always been the following one:

"Do you have a communicable disease; physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict?"

Every time I get into the US with a (communicable) cold, I feel like a criminal answering no.

Another great sentence on the same form is the one immediately following the questions:

"If you entered "Yes" to any of the above, please contact the American Embassy BEFORE you travel to the U.S. since you may be refused admission into the United States."

Quite a joke on a form that is distributed on the plane. I have never been warned of anything by my travel agency.

Also, answering "Yes" to any of the questions does not mean that you will be refused entrance. It does mean, however, that you will spend a few hours of fun with customs officials.

SnowflakeSeptember 25, 2006 11:12 AM

I'm surprised that nobody has posted (or I missed) what may be the most likely reason for these questions. Could asking the question be an opportunity for the official to observe the applicant, and note his reaction as he replies?

People in these roles are supposed to be taught to watch for tell-tale body language that gives away lying or deceptive behaviour. Maybe after a dozen questions that hit close to home, the applicant will start getting nervous. Something will seem "hinky" and the official should recognize it.

Maybe?

AnonymousSeptember 25, 2006 11:13 AM

@Kemayo

> crimes of moral turpitude are those which involve "conduct that shocks the public conscience"

Interesting definition. The two most recent US presidents would seem to have indulged in activity that shocked the public conscience.

RichSeptember 25, 2006 11:22 AM

@Carlo Graziani

The Communism question was still on there as of last year. It raises two issues for me:

1) Don't we have the freedom of political affiliation in the USA?

2) Approximately 2/3rds of all citizens of the Soviet Union were members of the Communist party. The vast majority of those people are now as Capitalist as you can get. So what should they answer? Yes and almost gaurantee an easy rejection, or No and risk being rejected for lying?

The answer btw is "no". Nobody reviewing the form actually cares. They just want all the correct boxes checked.

And no, they don't have a sense of humor when they're at work.

EdwinSeptember 25, 2006 11:42 AM

It reminds me of the apocryphal story about the immigration officer in Australia who asked the visitor if he was ever convicted of a crime. The visitor replied "Why, I didn't know that was still an entry requirement!"

LeeSeptember 25, 2006 12:00 PM

I remember being asked when I boarded a flight at JFK a few years ago being asked whether anyone could have put something in my bags without me knowing

RickardSeptember 25, 2006 12:01 PM

@Snowflake

Most of the time you answer the questions on paper on the plane before landing, so no officials are monitoring your reactions to the questions. The filled in form is then handed over together with you passport at the customs and immigrations. No close-up monitoring at that time either, as far as I have noticed.

Pink BoydSeptember 25, 2006 12:22 PM

The "are you a communist" questions have a chilling effect. They discourage many people from even learning about it.

cesar brancoSeptember 25, 2006 12:23 PM

This kind of thing is very american. The puritan, non cinic, innocent way, very stupid way. I think someone thought it was worth asking... just in case someone writes the truth. Those questions have been on those forms since long before 9/11.

DaedalaSeptember 25, 2006 12:23 PM

Serious suggestion: I do not know how visa forms are processed, but is it possible that someone is watching while it is being filled out, or you have to tell someone your answers when you do it, or something? This might allow an agent who is paying attention to catch "hinky" behavior that being asked point-blank might elicit.

pigletSeptember 25, 2006 12:42 PM

The question concerning terrorist organization membership and "unlawful intentions" is obviously nonsense, but you are overlooking the fine details: Applicants have to disclose not only all prior convictions, even if they have been pardoned, but also arrests that did not result in conviction or even charges. *"Innocent until proven guilty" is no longer a meaningful concept in the USA.*
Applicants who have been arrested are in a difficult position. If you tell the truth, you may be turned down even if you have been found innocent. If you lie and DHS finds out, they'll have a stick to beat you with even though you are innocent.

Ed T.September 25, 2006 12:59 PM

@Erik N:

"I think the "Did you pack this bag yourself?" question is not directed towards preventing terrorism, but rather smugling: If you say yes, then you are liable for whatever is found inside - including any drugs you carry, as you then admit they cannot have been placed by someone else."

IIRC, that question started getting asked after Pan-Am 103 went down. If you recall, a passenger was duped into taking a package (containing the bomb) in her luggage.

~EdT.

pigletSeptember 25, 2006 1:13 PM

The above questions are from the Nonimmigrant Visa Application form DS-156. Male applicants aged 16 to 45 (or ANY applicant over 16 from the "axis of evil") have also to complete fomr DS-157 featuring the following questions:
- List all countries you have enetered in the last 10 years
- List your last two employers
- List all professional, social and charitable organizations to which You belong (belonged) or contribute (contributed) or with which You work (have worked)
- Do You have any specialized skills or training, including firearms, explosives, nuclear, biological or chemical experience?
- Have You ever performed military service? If yes, give name of country, branch of service, rank/position, military specialty and dates of service
- List all educational institutions You attend or have attended. Include vocational institutions, but not elementary schools.

Even applicants for tourist or visitor visa (except visa waiver) have to complete this form. Note that in some countries, disclosing details about military service is a crime. Also note how vague the question about membership in organizations is. What is a "social" organization? Folks, this isn't funny or stupid any more. It's truly Kafkaesque. Good article: http://www.slate.com/id/2100403/

I remember in the old times when we had to go through all this bureaucracy when entering an Eastern European country. It seemed obvious that communism was evil - just look at their border controls. Nowawadys, Europeans, who abolished most border controls in the 1980s, are staring in disbelief at the forms the US bureaucracy requires of them when crossing the border. You can imagine the lasting impression this makes.

Timmy303September 25, 2006 1:19 PM

We make them answer those questions for the same reason we make employees sign a paper saying they've 1) read, and 2) understand corporate security policies when everyone knows they probably didn't read, certainly won't remember, and generally don't care. It's all CYA.

anonymousSeptember 25, 2006 1:38 PM

Anybody remember the case of the Nazi they caught in the US a few years back? He was long-since an American citizen by then, but because he lied when he first entered the country (the question about whether or not one was a Nazi), that could be used to void any other process related to citizenship or immigration that happened since, making him deportable etc.

I assume there's something similar going on here. (Unless they're just trying to see if you get "twitchy" while filling out that section...)

Nobby NutsSeptember 25, 2006 2:14 PM

The same sort of questions are asked if you buy some stuff online from outside the US. I use DigiKey to buy electronic parts regularly, and at the end of the purchasing cycle just before confirming the order a page pops up asking me what the parts are being used for, and to confirm that they are not being used for weapons development, for nuclear stuff or for terrorist purposes.

I can often buy many of the exact same parts locally from distributors who never ask the same questions. I'm sure the world's a safer place because of them, though.

E. LeibovichSeptember 25, 2006 2:19 PM

Probably it's to find out whether or not the man is lying. So even if USA wishes to accept a former drug-dealer, she'll never accept him if he's lying to her and denying the fact he was convicted.
Information about conviction can be drawn from the interpol, friendly countries, etc.

Josh PetersSeptember 25, 2006 2:33 PM

This is just the first step in US Visa reform. Once applicants are required by law to fill out the form under the influence of sodium pentathol these questions will prove invaluable.

David MerySeptember 25, 2006 2:37 PM

@Bruce,

As you pointed out it applies to simple arrest. When I first realised it I mentioned it at:

http://gizmonaut.net/bits/suspect.html#20050926

This US State Department rules taken in conjunction with the fact that the Police in the UK is making many arrests that do not lead to any conviction mean that it affect many innocents.

So the consequence of having been (illegally) arrested in the UK (especially in relation with terrorism) means that one is unlikely to ever been admitted in the US anymore. For most readers of this blog, working in the software or hi-tech industry, it can also affect employment prospects.

There's of course no possibility of redress or compensation as it happens at the intersection of English Laws and US State Dept rules.

@Piglet

Re DS-157, this affected also those that had never been arrested from Visa waiver countries that had a non machine readable passport when the US started requiring them. French consulate abroad didn't have passport machines that could print the magnetic passport number.

I've been many times to the USA. I had an I-visa (journo) as well. But it's now been a long time since the last time I was there and unless the US State Department changes its rules I will never be able to go back there. Many other innocents must be in the same situation.

br -d

CJSeptember 25, 2006 3:13 PM

"The above questions are from the Nonimmigrant Visa Application form DS-156. Male applicants aged 16 to 45 (or ANY applicant over 16 from the "axis of evil") have also to complete form DS-157"

I had to fill out the DS-156 a few years ago, along with my colleagues, all of whom were male and had to fill in DS-157 as well. I was quite insulted that they didn't think females were dangerous enough to warrant the extra screening.

On the "did you pack your suitcase yourself" question - I wasn't asked that, I was asked whether my luggage had been in my possession the entire time. I said, yes, except for when it was checked in. They weren't particularly happy with that - they wanted a flat out yes or no.

Tom GrantSeptember 25, 2006 3:45 PM

@ Me

"Would you prefer that they didn't ask these questions? If nothing else it shows due dilligence on the governments part."

Please explain how the practice of asking completely useless questions equates to "due diligence"? These questions almost scream "Anyone entering anything but 'NO' will be summarily deported." Sure, you can check off on your list that you asked visa applicants questions about their background...but is this REALLY due diligence? Validating their file with Interpol...now THAT'S due diligence. But just asking namby-pamby questions that any self-respecting terrorist (and anyone else who really wants to enter) will simply respond "no" to?

I think the point here is that in too many places "due diligence" equates to "lip service"...which equates to zero security.

Douglas McGibbonSeptember 25, 2006 3:48 PM

As someone who's flown between the UK and NZ a few times, I've given up flying via the US. You can't atually transit the US like any other country, you MUST enter through immigration and then leave again. This includes long haul flights that have stopped for re-fueling and you're getting back on the same plane in three hours time. You queue with your visa waiver, get fingerprinted, herded into a hodling area by armed guards, then grudgingly allowed back on the same plane a few hours later.

A'kosSeptember 25, 2006 3:58 PM

>- List all countries you have enetered in the last 10 years
--------
Of course the space provided is only enough for 5-6 countries and they're not too happy if you write outside of the box.

>- List all educational institutions You attend or have attended. Include vocational institutions, but not elementary schools.
--------
You're in trouble if you have more than two degrees :-)

Tim StewartSeptember 25, 2006 5:03 PM

Do our fellow readers really not know that those questions are the grounds for exclusion found in the Immigration and Nationality Act, and that the US Constitution doesn't apply to an alien applying to enter the US?

There are waivers available for Communists and prostitutes, among others, but they are excludable unlesss waivers are granted.

Bon voyage, all

Laughing BoySeptember 25, 2006 5:15 PM

Q. Have you ever used illegal drugs.
A. No sir.

Q. What never, not even a spliff? Maybe just when your friends passed it around at a party - you know just to fit in.
A. Oh no, nothing like that (looking uncomfortable).

Q. So none of your friends at a party ever smoked a joint? Are you a member of a religious organisation?
A. I never accepted any drugs offered to me, I swear.

Q. OK, when you were offered drugs, did you report this to the police?
A. Sorry, what??

Q. Did you report illegal drug taking you observed by your friends.
A. They are my friends, who could I do that to them?

Failure to report illegal activities to authorities. Associating with drug abusers. VISA APPLICATION DENIED.

Have a nice day.

Dan HalfordSeptember 25, 2006 5:23 PM

@Douglas McGibbon,

I too travel between the UK and NZ fairly regularly, and the US immigration procedure is precisely why I fly via Hong Kong or Singapore now. If transiting through a country, I don't expect to have to go through that country's immigration procedures just to sit in a transit lounge. I don't expect to have to collect my baggage, then check it in again. I don't expect to be asked moronic questions which bear no relation to the security of the country I'm visiting (or in this case, simply passing through). I don't expect to be fingerprinted like a criminal. They haven't brought the anal probes into use yet, but it can't be too long.
The security's all for show anyway. In early October 2001, when armed squaddies still roamed US airports, I travelled through LAX on my way to NZ. After teh security scan where I was asked to remove my shoes, demonstrate my laptop was indeed a laptop and hand over any articles in my possession sharper than a George W Bush's intelligence, I was grudgingly let into the concourse in terminal B. Lots of shops and restaurants to browse through, and if I wanted to sit down to a nice meal of steak, I was given a five inch long serrated steel steak knife... Genius. Sheer genius.

KeesSeptember 25, 2006 5:31 PM

Rod Begbie: "Do you intend to engage in the United States in any activity to overthrow the United States government?"

If you canvas for a Democrat Presidential candidate when the ruling Prez is a Republican, is that an activity to overthrow the US Gummint?

MozSeptember 25, 2006 5:49 PM

In many countries at least some of those activities are legal. The US is actually one of them (it's legal to be a prostitute or a politician). I wonder if voting for it counts as "participating in genocide"?

So those questions are actually interesting in that they appear designed to keep out participants in legal-but-disapproved occupations who are stupid enough to declare same. Especially given the ease with which your govt declares groups to be "terrorist organisations" (just for the record, RTS denies being an organisation).

In my opinion....September 25, 2006 6:06 PM

Seems to be a lot of people on here speculating why the questions are there and the intended purpose.

Surely someone actually does know why the question is there?

I'm assuming the design of this form is a result of a committee meeting, etc, and the records of that must be subject to Freedom of Information Act. Or there are persons out there that came up with the questions.

Just a thought, rather than 80 posts of pointless guessing and anecdotes, you could spend the time to find out the reason......................

roySeptember 25, 2006 6:18 PM

"Have you ever been afflicted with a communicable disease of public health significance or a dangerous physical or mental disorder, or ever been a drug abuser or addict?"

As a kid I had measles, mumps, and chickenpox. I've had the flu dozens of times. I used to smoke cigarettes.

Would a 'yes' get me six weeks of third-degree detention? Or get handcuffed to a wall for days?

MoeSeptember 25, 2006 6:20 PM

I like this bit:

Quote "or been a prostitute or procurer for prostitutes?"

Interestingly it doesn't include a procurer of prostitutes. Is being a prostitute more immoral / a security risk than visiting prostitutes?

EricSeptember 25, 2006 6:27 PM

I would guess the questions are probably copied from the questionnaire given to people applying for citizenship.

Because who, really, is going to get uptight about what we ask non-citizens in either case? This is yet another case where the people making the decisions, who are remotely beholden to American voters, are completely insulated from the people affected by any stupid decisions, because by definition they aren't American citizens.

It's probably also a "bikeshed" situation where anything anybody proposes goes on the form, just because it's really easy for anyone to have an opinion and "make their mark" on the office.

roy(again)September 25, 2006 6:50 PM

USMC MPs arrested me for change for a dollar. Kern County SO arrested me suspecting I'd been hijacked by a drunken Santa Fe crew. California HP arrested me for driving a 1972 vehicle wearing California black plate (phased out in 69-70), which vehicle had been bought wearing those plates from the Barstow PD, and which plate number came back to the VIN of that car. Pennsylvania SP arrested me on suspicion of armed robbery because I fit the description, "male wearing sunglasses and denim jacket"; as he questioned me, I pointed out the dozens of people in the cars passing by also fitting that description; he apologized and told me it was a nice area to live in, with a lot of good fishing holes.

So, "Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime...?" Damn straight!

My take on these? Civil servants who can't get fired, or be made to work, are just having fun screwing with people.

BobSeptember 25, 2006 6:56 PM

Police officers tend to ask questions like this. A cop asked me once if the laptop I was carrying was stolen (long story -- it wasn't just some random question). My reply?

"No it isn't stolen! Do people actually say yes to questions like that?"

His reply: "We've caught a number of criminals that way. They just start confessing to everything."

I was going to jest that if people don't answer 'no' to these questions we don't want them in the USA anyhow, but then I started thinking about language barriers. I wonder how many people mistakenly answer these questions with a "yes" because they don't understand them.

Keith PittySeptember 25, 2006 7:03 PM

Yes, I remember laughing at those questions nearly twenty years ago when I first had to get a visa to enter the US. Utterly pointless from a security point of view. I wonder who dreamt these questions up. Good for a laugh though.

Brian Blue (formely Brian from 9:53 am)September 25, 2006 7:38 PM

@ Brian (from 9:36 am)

Sorry about the delay getting back to you, it was night here.

For those reading this comment without context, It is assumed that the purpose of the questions is deportation. The consequent question is when would you deport a "terrorist" rather than try them?

Your 10:08 comment implies that deportation requires a lower standard of evidence than prosecution. Intereresting theory.

The Article linked in your 9:36 post may provide some insight. Perhaps the purpose is to allow deporting "terrorists" long after their active days are over.

Another possibility is allowing deportation to countries with which you don't have an extradition treaty.

Is it possible that the purpose is to remove the "terrorist" from the jurisdiction of the US courts, to that of another with a more "progressive" approach to dealing with them?

Bob MonsourSeptember 25, 2006 9:28 PM

If you think these are bad, have you tried to give blood lately and seen the questions you have to answer to do good?

Stefan WagnerSeptember 25, 2006 10:01 PM

"easier to prove you're part of a terrorist organisation" - because they found your Golden-Al-Quaida-Premium-Membership-Card?

I guess it's a kind of introduction: "We are american officials, and here is how we behave:
What we expect from you is: Don't ask questions. Give short and easy answers. Avoid problems. Don't laugh, even if we act strange and foolish."

JonatanSeptember 25, 2006 11:48 PM

I might be wrong but, to me, these questions seem to be asked for psychological purposes.
You see, when a person is "forced" to agree to these points and sign the paper, a strong psychological block is placed, compelling the person to keep her word. This, most certainly, won't keep terrorists or other deeply criminal people from lying but it *will* reduce the number of "ordinary people" that (knowingly or unknowingly) commit crime in the states.

ZaphodSeptember 26, 2006 1:43 AM

@Martyn "The "Visa Waiver" is quite a process now, involving filling in a form before you fly; another one on board,.......". Well, not from the UK at least. The Visa Waiver procedure is to hop on the plane and fill the green I-94 Visa Waiver form. That's all.

Also, I've noticed the last few times I've flown that the check-in questions "Have you packed the bag yourself/Has anyone asked you to carry/etc" are no longer asked.

Zaphod

WonderAnimalSeptember 26, 2006 3:47 AM

If you say yes to the question "Have you ever been afflicted with a communicable disease of public health significance or a dangerous physical or mental disorder, or ever been a drug abuser or addict?" there will be probably no problem even if you say yes to the two former questions as well

kybSeptember 26, 2006 4:30 AM

I remember filling in a document with the question "Have you every worked directly or indirectly for the overthrow of the government through violent or political means". As far as I could tell, that would include voting for the opposition. At the airport yesterday I was asked "Could anyone have put something in your bag without your knowledge". How should I know that? Am I expected to know and evaluate all the possibilites, including what technology the attackers use? Could something have been fired into my bag using a blow pipe from a long distance without me noticing? I expect it could, yes.

Perhaps I did the wrong thing, but in the face of obviously stupid questions, I just make the expected obviously stupid answers. I suppose if large numbers of people were to stand their ground, they'd have to change them, but it takes a bit of a mindset change when you're travelling to challenge idiocy rather than just get through the process as quickly as possible.

As someone who has recently been irritated by having to stand in line for ages with 500 other people going through security, requiring the removal of my shoes, my belt, my wallet, all jewelry, the unpacking and repacking of my bag twice, the x-raying of my computer equipment, the confiscation of my shower gel, deoderant, and bottle of drinking water, and questioning from staff who looked so bored that I can't imagine they would be very effective, I hope you will allow me a short rant.

It seems to me that there are two main attack avenues using planes. One is to use the plane as a weapon to attack large numbers of people and the other is to use the plane as a containment for relatively few people to attack. Both are extremely rare. The first one can largely be avoided by keeping the passenger compartment seperate from the pilot compartment, and with a few other nonintrusive measures should be pretty much dealt with. The second one requires some level of passenger checks, but that level of security should be about the same level of security as we provide anywhere we have a gathering of 200 or so people (certainly no more intrusive than a concert). In particular, if the security measures for getting into a plane involve creating queues of closely packed people that are more than would fit in a single plane, then those measures are worse than nothing.

DeadOnArrivalSeptember 26, 2006 5:20 AM

Maybe the guys asking the question have special training in detecting lies. There are a lot of body language signs that are hard to control when lying, even if you know them.

DogboySeptember 26, 2006 5:33 AM

Back in '85, traveling from Finland to St. Petersburg, I was given an index-card sized questionnaire. On one side, four questions, are you bringing with you 1) religious articles, 2) works of art, 3)weapons, 4) political propaganda (all worded in excessive detail, natch). On the other side, four statements, with exactly the same wording, except "Bringing (religious articles / works of art / etc.) into the USSR is illegal..."

ShermozleSeptember 26, 2006 5:45 AM

Wait a second, a government that requires you to fulfil the requirements of the "Government Paperwork Elimination Act" by answering more questions when filling out paperwork is supposed to make sense?!?!?

More seriously, I bet they tried to deport someone who they "knew" had done something wrong, but couldn't prove it. The burden of proof to say they've violated administrative law by lying on these forms is probably lower. Think Al Capone getting done on tax fraud.

pigletSeptember 26, 2006 10:33 AM

Somebody wrote: "Your 10:08 comment implies that deportation requires a lower standard of evidence than prosecution. Intereresting theory." That theory is true, however.

Most of you probably don't remember, but after 9/11, many hundreds of foreign nationals in the USA, all of them muslims, just disappeared. They were detained without charge and trial and often for extended periods without access to a lawyer, for many months, maybe years. I'm not talking about Guantanamo here. Those people were held in US prisons. The reason why they could be treated like that is immigration law. I think not one of those people has been convicted of terrorism-related crimes. They just had exceeded their visa or similar "violations". http://www.thedailycamera.com/news/terror/mar02/15aamne.html

Friends, get real. The whole point of immigration law is that foreigners (you call them "aliens") have no rights. Those visa application forms are *not stupid* and *not a laughing matter*.

CassandraSeptember 26, 2006 11:58 AM

@Tim Stewart

"the US Constitution doesn't apply to an alien applying to enter the US?"

Some people think you are wrong, according to them it does. The argument is to look at the 14th Amendment to the US Bill of Rights.

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Note that it *specifically* says "nor shall any State deprive any person...". It could have said citizen, as in the beginning of the sentence. The problem is that as a common or garden person, it is difficult to avail onself of the equal protection of the laws.

Cassie

GuillaumeSeptember 26, 2006 12:18 PM

> I used to think it was so that if
> someone is convicted of one of these
> activities he can also be convicted of
> visa-application fraud.

I also think so. French Tax Services are using the same trick to fight what could be argued as an omission. For example, there's a tax attached to every TV in France. You have to declare having a TV while buying one. "Some" people just forgot to do this for years. From last year on, you have to explicitely declare that you do not have a TV at home and signed it (not yet with your blood but... :-)). Then you cannot just plead omission in case on control.
Besides that, I guess it is a "good" thing for Police investigators to be able to put the pressure on a suspect person by having something against him/her, you know : "We can pass about your lies about your visa if you give us some usefull information about this or that".

Mr PondSeptember 26, 2006 12:19 PM

I remember flying to the US in about 1993 or thereabouts.

Entering the country my bags were searched and several very sensible things were doen, i.e. x-raying my bag, making me try my walkman tape player to demonstrate that it actually produced music etc.

However, I must say that I really don't see the utility in these questions...

GuillaumeSeptember 26, 2006 12:27 PM

By the way it's funny because french laws do not allow Police forces to use provocation as a mean to arrest bad guys, and I just realized that by pushing people to lie, tax services do use a kind of provocation...

BirpSeptember 26, 2006 3:16 PM

Several years ago, wen I eard first time this questions. I wondered, wath could be the utility of this kind of stupids questions?
After years of thinking and some interesting chats with friends. The only purpose I see for that questions are:

[1] Make a clear declaration of what are considered serius matters.
(Warning: "Don't laugh with this")

[2] Filter people that don't take seriusly this kind of matters.
(I don't know if it's true, but I eard about one guy that answered "yes" to the question of "are you a terrorist?", as a joke. And he was inmediatly putted in a returning fligh to his country.)

In the same line was the question "did you pack your suitcase yourself?". For me, it's only a way to tell/instruct people that each of us must take care of our luggage.

Doctor JekyllSeptember 27, 2006 12:17 AM

Years ago there was a theft in the office I worked in. We all had to fill out a questionare that started with these questions:

Did you take the X?
Did you take part in taking the X?
Do you know how took the X?

Doctor JekyllSeptember 27, 2006 12:22 AM

A friend was saying at work they have potential employees take a "psychological" test. The test gets faxed away and they get a fax back with a recommendation like "likely unreliable", etc.

It has questions like "on average how much do you steal from your employers in a week? a) less than $10 b) $10-100 c) $100-1000 d) more than $1000".

Another one is "Do you like to 'raise a little hell'? a) yes b) no".

The strangest thing is people are failing this test and the company is having trouble finding people to hire. "If they don't pass the test, I can't hire them."

josephSeptember 27, 2006 12:51 AM

Lying is a way of life in the US
they are just helping new arrivals to acclimatise to their new culture by giving them some practice prior to entering. If you tell the truth, you are probably honest so might not be able to support yourself in the US capitalist system so they don't let you in. Good liars are welcome even if they have criminal pasts. Hell they might even get into government!!

SomeoneSeptember 27, 2006 2:08 AM

IIRC, airplanes, like ships, are considered territory of the nation it belongs to. If you are traveling from country A to country B but the plane needs to land in country C for refuel; you don't need to have a visa for country C and they can't force you laws of country C as long as you remain inside the plane.

The airliner's crew might consider it rude but you are on your right to remain the 3 hours or whatever it takes the refueling inside the plane. Consult with the airline about this; simply tell them that you don't have permission to enter that country and that you really really don't mind waiting inside the plane.

CassandraSeptember 27, 2006 7:25 AM

@Someone

you may be correct, but I believe there are also regulations in some places that forbid the refueling of aeroplanes with passengers on board. This means that you may find yourself in an impasse - unable to leave the 'plane as you do not have a visa, unable to stay on board as your presence prevents refueling, and the 'plane has no fuel to take you elsewhere.

Cassie

KeesSeptember 27, 2006 7:47 AM

@ Cassandra
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Disclaimer: I'm not a laywer and I don't play one on the internet either...

First: "No State..." The USA is not a State, but a Union of States. Since entry into the Union is not a matter of States but of the Union this article does not apply.

Second: "...within its jurisdiction..." Since at the immigration desk you are not yet in a State you are not yet in its jurisdiction. You are in nowhere land, aka Federal jurisdiction.

Nothing in the BoR says they have to give you any rights there. That is why they can send you back to where you came from without calling it deportation, which could be under the scrutany of a judge. The INS officer at the immigration desk is prosecutor, judge and executioner.

The above view of the law is my own and has no legal standing. YMMV.

C GomezSeptember 27, 2006 7:50 AM

You actually hit on the answer before you finished your post.

It is probably a crime (perhaps a form or perjury) to lie on your visa application. Therefore, if later any agent of any government finds out you were lying, you can be lawfully held and perhaps imprisoned or deported without breaking any other laws.

As long as no one is treating these as security questions, then you can simply take them for what they are. There is nothing wrong with them.

pigletSeptember 27, 2006 8:59 AM

"Since at the immigration desk you are not yet in a State you are not yet in its jurisdiction. You are in nowhere land, aka Federal jurisdiction."

Actually, you are not even on US territory - you haven't been admitted yet. Even when you are put in border detention, the prison is contrued as "extraterritorial", and the normal laws don't apply.

"First: "No State..." The USA is not a State, but a Union of States." Interesting. Can the BoR be construed to mean that only the states are bound by "due process of law" but the Federal government is not? Sounds bizarre but apparently there is something to it. The Bush government is arguing that it can imprison foreigners by executive order *without regard to any law, constitution or international treaty*. I cannot think of *any* other supposedly democratic country in which *any* court would even start to debate such a despotic theory of law.

NikolasSeptember 27, 2006 9:50 AM

Well... I had to answer these questions too, so i was thinking about these. The only logical explanation is the one about Visa fraud, but it is not good enough... I don't really know what to say.

Regarding the immigration desk. Well this is nothing in comparisson to the questions you have to answer before checking in... The airlines workers (officers?) are so rude and offensive against you, like if it is a crime to enter the US. They keep asking questions like : "Who packed your baggages?", "What did you put inside?", "Did you bring any guns or drugs?"... Like if you are going to answer them yes, even if some of these are true... :S

DougCSeptember 27, 2006 2:00 PM

@ian

Yeah, the arrest question is way out of line.
I myself have been arrested -- for preventing a suicide by taking a gun from the suicide-ee, and having to use a bit of force to do so (no injuries, bruises or scratches, this person wasn't sane enough at the time to resist very well). But, since she was female, I'm a male, and we're in Virginia which has a "must arrest" law if she complains (she did), I went though all the "fun" police processing until she talked to the DA and told him what a really great guy I am. Charges silently dropped (weeks later), but I have been arrested, and for assult and battery at that. For saving a life the only way possible. Seconds DO count when someone is holding a gun to their (or anyone elses) head and things are going "click".

What sort of country has this become?
I'm often ashamed to admit I live here these days.

BTW, although I've been arrested more than once (similar things), I have not so much as a misdemeanor or even a parking ticket on my record. Even have a security clearance.
Go figure.

The other questions, or ones like them also appear on the forms you fill out to buy a gun. In this case I am pretty sure that they are there to give them something extra to hassle you about even without court-admissible evidence. My friend at the BATF told me so.
The questions even try to be tricky sometimes, it's not all just check "yes" or check "no" (in fact, no checks, you must write in the words for some arcane legal reason).

JHSeptember 28, 2006 2:26 AM

I'm working for a US multinational in Europe, and we have to work with people from the US and India on a regular base. The US visa process is now so cumbersome, that meetings are sometimes organized here, instead of the US.

frankieSeptember 28, 2006 4:49 AM

Well, what with the "Do you plan to practice polygamy in the United States?" question on form I-485 mentioned by Rod?

(http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/files/i-485.pdf)

How can they ever demonstrate that someone was *planning* to do that?

CassandraSeptember 28, 2006 6:00 AM

@Kees

thanks for that - I missed the obvious point about not yet being in/on US territory. The context I came across the BoR argument was in relation to the difficulty of non-US citizens getting justice in the USA (i.e. they had passed immigration).

Cassie

FKASeptember 29, 2006 6:05 PM

The reason for this is inorder to be able to deport a foreigner from US easily i suppose. If someone convicts a crime in US he can still be able to stay in US unless he provided false information in his visa application. Probably the law on visas implies these questions to be asked. You need to declare somehow that you dont allow terrorists or pimps to enter the country. Why ? because you have enough of them inside allready. Quite ironic !

AnonymousOctober 1, 2006 1:40 AM

@Frankie

I think it's just to put you on notice and maybe to give grounds for deportation. Some people might not think it was illegal to carry on being married to two others in the US, and maybe it's not. Certainly it's not illegal to be married, or not married, and to have sex with more than one person while you're in the US. So if you really do want no polygamy, you need to make that illegal. And the fact that you came here with your two wives and proceeded to sleep with both of them while in the US is pretty solid evidence that you did, in fact, plan to practice polygamy, even though it's not otherwise illegal (I don't think, in most states, considering the semi-recent striking down of sodomy laws, IANAL, etc)

Ian CognitoOctober 2, 2006 5:34 PM

``It was never clear what purpose this served, other than to underline the U.S. intellectual confusion that manifested itself as an inability to distinguish between the comical threat of communism and the real threat of Soviet military power.''

Finally, someone else who realizes the Soviet Union wasn't communist except by fiat! I was watching "Good Night and Good Luck" and wondering what all the paranoia about Communism was... I had to ask someone else to remember that most people conflate Communism with the Soviet Union.

FWIW, if they use currency, they are not really Communist/Marxist... they are Socialist. Farming communes where people grow food and eat it without trading money are communist. The Soviet Union and China have misrepresented themselves ideologically, claiming their revolutions would lead to a communist utopia that never seems to have arrived. All it really did was consolidate control of a lot of wealth into the Communist party's hands.

Although I have to wonder how you get people to, say, clean toilets without financial incentives.

Regarding the baggage questions, reminds me of a George Carlin bit where he talks about "has any unknown person..." and he responds "well certainly everyone is known to someone... for example my new friend Rahul is probably known to his mother...".

The one that really gets me is when they ask whether the bag has been in my control/surveillance since I packed it. Technically, no, there are times I looked away...

Anyhow, this reminds me of the stamps that Customs requires for transporting controlled substances. There are stamps for marijuana and cocaine and such, and the purpose of it is to have another charge to throw at drug smugglers for not having them. To their great dismay, law-abiding stamp collectors snapped them up with vigor. This also reminds me of reporting income from illegal activities on the IRS 1040-series of forms. And how "wire fraud" is often added to the charges of baddies since it is allegedly easy to prove.

pigletOctober 3, 2006 9:03 AM

"If someone convicts a crime in US he can still be able to stay in US unless he provided false information in his visa application."

Bullshit, that someone can be deported. Anyway, the usefulness of visa law is that somebody can be put in prison or deported without the need to convict or even charge him or her of a crime. No assumption of innocence, no standards of proof, no due process of law required. That's what it is about. Forget about what you learned in school.

infivisionOctober 15, 2006 11:16 AM

These questions probably do help the authorities incriminate potential evil doers. I can't argue against that.

A side effect of these questions is that innocent people sometimes end up answering yes to these questions. Who could be stupid enough to answer yes? Mistakes do happen and they can happen more often that one might think.

I have actually heard of a couple of cases where the applicant's visa got denied because they answered "yes" to all questions. In their case, no amount of explaining to the visa officer worked. In some cases it might have worked. I don't know. What I do know is that the benefit obtained from asking these questions, could be outweighed by the lost opportunity cost of disallowing entry to perfectly innocent visa applicants.

Hubert MatthewsOctober 16, 2006 3:11 PM

The British actor and entertainer Peter Ustinov when entering Australia was once asked a similar question: "Are you a convicted criminal?". He replied: "I didn't realise it was still a necessity here".

Rob PedanticusOctober 17, 2006 3:39 PM

In re "overthrowing the government," voting for the oppostion party doesn't count, at least in the USA. The parties (if elected) are part of the government.

"Overthrowing the government" means replacing the Republic with e.g. a monarchy, a soviet, or a single-party totalitarian dictatorship.

()

RobertOctober 21, 2006 2:13 AM

Let me post a little comment from a "victim" of that question. Several years ago I've applied for the U.S. visa in one of the Western European countries. A couple of years before that, I spent about a year in the prison back in my country (in the Eastern Europe) as a consciencious objector. So, in all honesty, I did indicate it in my application. After mentioning two other reasons why my request was denied, the lady at the Embassy said: "Besides, you've been in the prison, and the U.S. does not need criminals." So, some are denied their U.S. visa because they plan to kill people, but others cannot visit your country because they are determined to never take up weapons. Wierd, isn't it?

ENOctober 27, 2006 8:04 PM

Came on guys, these questions were made to make us laugh and that´s all, probably to make an contrast with the arrogant and weird posture of U.S. Embassy employees when you have to request a VISA. It is interesting when they look at you as you look at an enemy, not as a customer with will spend money on U.S. and probably generate taxes which will pay his salary.

sparkyOctober 31, 2006 6:36 PM

It sounds a lot like answering yes to any of these questions would get your visa summarily denied. Thinking about it really kinda pisses me off.

Not only is prostitution legal in many countries, (i.e. Australia and Netherlands at least), I am not aware of FEDERAL laws against it, why are they asking this? If some girl in Australia is going to Pahrump, NV to work in brothell, what is the State Dept so freaking concerned about?

And some of the questions about terrorists? well, family rumor has it that Grandma was in the IRA. Seriously. How would I ever explain that one? or I suppose that's not a terrorist organization.... Them london subway bombing weren't meant to scare anyone were they?

quickQNovember 9, 2006 1:07 AM

I called 911 and police took me into custody for questioning. I RELEASED ON BAIL. NO CHARGES FILED. Case Dimissed. California Police Department later issued a letter referencing California Penal Code stating that "the arrest shall not be considered as arrest but detention only"

I am going out of USA for H1 visa stamping and have to answer question on the DS forms. "were you arrested"? I have authentic certificate saying its not an arrest.

Am I safe in writing "NO"?

CTNovember 21, 2006 2:42 PM

I was arrested in new york while i was a student there. I had a very small amount of weed. The judge dismissed the charge. Does anyone know if that will show up during the application process?

Bruce SchneierNovember 21, 2006 2:54 PM

"I was arrested in new york while i was a student there. I had a very small amount of weed. The judge dismissed the charge. Does anyone know if that will show up during the application process?"

Honestly, you need to find an attorney who can 1) check the record to see what's on your record, and 2) tell you if you have to declare it on your form.

ahsan-ul-haqJanuary 9, 2007 3:26 AM

when i go to new Delhi usa counslate for intrwive for visa-B1-B2, they didnot ask me me the questins related they ask me only one question what kind of business r u doing after that hey said me ok we think u r not able for usa visa and sorry they r not bother to see my all documents any way if anyone can help me plz help me ( im very good in snowboarding and also good in white water rafting) thanking you

yours faithfully
ahsan-ul-haq

AdelFebruary 12, 2007 9:27 AM

pls tell me what to do. Im married to a wonderful American, I am a Filipina. We have 2 beautiful kids, did not get my visa bec. 1. was chrged of or admitted to a crime of turptitude (when i was 20 in the US) 2. was oredered removed fro US 3. overstayed. life is so sad now, been here in the Philippines foralmost 3 years now and we want to be a family. That is all that we ever want - to be a family. Pls help.

WarbyMarch 26, 2007 9:19 AM

If anyone actually checked the details in the Immigration Act, they would see that being arrested doesn't in itself make you inelligible for a visa. You have to have been arrested for crimes of this type:

1. moral turpitude
2. drug crime
3. multiple convictions
4. various others (not including misdemenours such as drunk/disorderly etc. DUI could be considered alcohol abuse which would be a problem.)

AnonymousMarch 26, 2007 2:10 PM

@Warby

"1. moral turpitude"

There is the old story about an English playwright who on ariving at US imigration was asked the question about moral turpitude, whilst he was pondering it he muttered "moral turpitude" as though thinking about what it might mean. Mean while the Immigration officer asked him the purpose of his visit to which he replied without thinking "Moral Turpitude".

Apparently he was let in.

Clive RobinsonMarch 26, 2007 2:20 PM

@Warby

On a more serious note,

"would see that being arrested doesn't in itself make you inelligible for a visa"

Where the confusion might come in is the Visa Waver program. Some of us in the U.K. are taking great interest in it now the "cash for Hounors" case is getting close to Dear Old Tony Blair.

Apparently if you are a UK citizen who has not been arested at any time then you may travel to the U.S. without a visa. If however you have been arested (no matter what for and irrespective of if you have been charged or convicted) then you are supposed to declair it and have an interview with a U.S. Consular official prior to travel to ascertain if you are fit to enter the U.S.

So far a couple of people have been arrested of the Cash for Hounors, many would like to see Tony arrested for no better reason than it would reduce if not stop his ability to go and inflict himself and his unrepresentative views on the U.S. populace in return for large handfulls of cash (as his wife does from time to time).

In general it's not to stop him getting his hands on the cash but his misrepresenting his odd ball ideas and belifes as being part of "being British" and thereby casting a very bad light on the rest of us.

Oh and before anybody asks if I want an Hounour the answer is "Sorry I cannot afford one".

KeltecMarch 29, 2007 7:33 PM

Hi All, I thought I'd put in my experience with applying for a Visa after being charged but not convicted of an offence.

Back in the mid-late 90's I used to frequent the USA about every 3-4 months as an IT specialist. In 1999, I was charged (single charge) with theft, totalling $5000. After my court hearing (I was 24) I was fined $5000 and no conviction recorded.

Two years ago I planned to enter the US and faced the dilema post-9/11 of determining whether I should just go to the US and answer no to all the questions or answer yes and go through the INS / Consular approach of applying for a 1 or 5 year Visa.

Given the honesty of my person and the lesson learned from the theft, in January 2006 I went to the US Consulate in Melbourne (Austrlaia) and applied for a 1 year visa.

I had to supply a police certificate and documentation of my trip, passport and additional photo's for the application.

My request for a Visa was denied by the US INS, but they felt my grounds for an appeal given that I had not recommitted an offence of Moral Turpitude in almost 7 years, meant my details, passport, application and fingerprints were sent to the Department of Homeland Security for veto.

After they lost ALL of my documentation et. al., my application was approved and I can now freely travel to and from the United States without that feeling of guilt as I did the right thing.

Basically if you do the right thing then there's a high possibility that you will be allowed, so long as you acknowlege and respect the way the US handles things. And in having done so and receiving approval for entry in to the US still, leaves me with the relief that I can enter just about any country on this planet - cause if you can get in to the US, you can get in anywhere.


BradMay 30, 2007 11:52 PM

Can i get a working VISA in the USA if i have been previously charged with a arms offense. please reply ASAP Thank you.

tabithaJune 15, 2007 11:51 PM

Hi, I'm not sure what to do? I am a birth citizen of the U.S.A. I got married and stayed with my husband 5mos. and came back to America adn filed for his case first I did reg. visa Pet. and then a K/4. They did not call him on the K/4 but eventually had an interview now its been almost 3yr. and he still does not have a visa. His name is Umer Hayat Please tell me What to do? He's from (pakistan)

ArtJune 16, 2007 5:28 AM

Just in case people think this has no cost to Americans; we were deciding where to have a conference recently locations that came up included the US, Europe and Asia (it makes no difference; people have to travel in any case). Other places had debates about facilities, ease of transport hotel costs etc. The US, considered a good location otherwise and a place who's turn had obviously come, was immediately abandoned when the hassle of getting in to the country was mentioned. Nobody, especially those from the US, even questioned that. That's about 200k dollars out of the US economy. I think this is a common experience in big companies.

SiNovember 3, 2007 8:11 PM

I recently was detained in Las Vegas for allegedly pushing someone (I was drunk and don't believe I did it, they said they had a video tape of it, but refused to show it to me) - anyway, I received a misdemeanor citation, which is still being processed.

I travel to the US often, and am not fond of the idea of having to disclose this everytime.

Does anyone know if the passport officials have access to criminal records while they are doing their passport checks? Do convictions get red flagged? The officers only had my New Zealand drivers licence number, not my passport number.

BBNovember 11, 2007 4:23 PM

Yes, the passport officials have access to any and every criminal record, I tell you by my own experience! Nowadays all information is linked and accessible to them.
A suggestion, dont lie cause they'll know you have been arrested.
Good luck!

salman ahmadFebruary 12, 2008 2:10 AM

hi
this is salman ahmad from pakistan. my wife is US citizen and she applied for my Immigrant visa in 2005.i wana ask that i gave interview for US Immigrant visa in march 2007. they said your interview is good. and now its almost a year and i didnt get my visa yet. whenever i call in embassy, they just say its under admin processing.
please tell me why its getting so late.

thanking in advance

salman ahmad

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