Searching for information online can be enormously helpful — except when it’s not. One area where it’s especially ill-advised is immigration. While Web searches on immigration topics can be useful up to a point, the consequences of getting it wrong can be considerable (e.g., penalties for compliance violations), particularly for companies that send employees to foreign locations.
Part of this is because immigration regulations are constantly revised, and websites available to the public don’t always provide real time information. This can impact its accuracy, and even data from a credible source, like an immigration attorney, may no longer be correct if the website hasn’t been updated.
In other instances, the information may be accurate, but only up to a point. For example, one site noted that visas for U.S. citizens weren’t needed to travel to EU countries if the visit didn’t exceed 90 days per year. What wasn’t noted was that this applied to the EU as a whole, not to individual countries.
For those traveling on business visitor visas, things can get even fuzzier, as there are numerous subtle distinctions in the types of activities allowed (versus those allowed under a work permit), which vary by country. Although most jurisdictions don’t permit business visitors to stay beyond a certain time frame, be paid by a local entity, or perform activities that create competition for the local labor market, other permissible vs. non-permissible activities aren’t always as clear. In these instances, Web searches may provide some information, but generally not enough to ensure compliance. To avoid violations, real time information should be obtained directly from reputable immigration providers.
Another problem with Web searches is the legitimacy of the source. There are many online scams, and those related to immigration are no exception. These websites can be highly sophisticated and easily mistaken for the real thing, and often claim an affiliation with immigration authorities like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. However, they are not. Generally their goal is to make a profit via application processing and other fees and to obtain credit card and personally identifiable information (PII) that can be used for identity theft or other crimes.
It should also be noted that these scams can be fairly elaborate; in many instances, initial contact is followed up by a series of emails and/or calls providing additional information and “documentation,” which may even appear legitimate, at least at first, to immigration professionals.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of relying on the Web for immigration information is that most cases are unique. In each instance there are numerous factors involved and many moving parts, which must all be taken into account when determining the viability of a visa application and/or the actions needed to obtain approval.
With regard to viability, for example, one’s country of birth, regardless of current citizenship, can impact the approval process. Also, those who have previously visited certain countries can be denied entry to others. Costa Rica, for instance, has restrictions on entry to those who have recently been to countries with Ebola outbreaks. And a number of countries (most of which are in the Middle East) won’t admit anyone whose passport contains an Israeli stamp.
Examples of actions taken to obtain approvals include filing for the right visa, submission of correct documentation, and briefings, if needed, to prepare applicants for interviews by immigration authorities.
The bottom line here? Don’t rely solely on the Web for immigration information. It may be useful up to a point, but should never be a substitute for individualized advice from a reputable professional.
By Carolina Rojas Newman, GMS-T, President, MSI Global Immigration