Virginia, US

Consular officials worldwide are a unique group of people. Often in host countries without much oversight from the relevant Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or whichever government body is responsible for diplomatic posts around the world, consular officials have a lot of power. Almost universally, they have wide discretionary power to grant or reject visa applications. They also have opinions on which visa category is appropriate or necessary. This is where they sometimes overstep the bounds of their authority and cause some difficulties for our clients.

Consular officials have quite a bit of discretion on exactly what kinds of documents they want to see in support of an application. For example, a Spanish consulate in Brazil may require a different list of documents than a Spanish consulate in India. There may be originals requested in one country and copies in another. There may be travel itineraries needed, police certificates, or proof of health insurance requested, but again, that list may differ in another country. There can be no argument with consular officials when they request particular documents. Consulates need to ensure that applications are not fraudulent and are properly supported by evidence. They also have security concerns that may vary depending upon the sending country.

Can consular officials determine whether you need a work or business visa?

Intuitively, people also assume --- and many consular officials may assume --- that they also have the authority to determine whether someone requires a work visa or a business visa.  The truth for most countries is more complicated than that. This becomes an issue particularly in that grey area between what is considered “work” and what may be considered valid business travel, without the need for a work permit. The determination of work permit issuance usually lies with an in-country authority, whether it be an immigration service or labour department, or a combination of agencies. Similarly, the internal enforcement of immigration laws may often lie with yet another authority in the host country, usually again a labour ministry, although sometimes a separate immigration policing agency. Therein lies the tension. Although a consular official may believe, based on the facts, that a business visa is appropriate, the work permit issuing authorities or the in-country enforcement agencies may have a different interpretation. 

So, we often hear at Fragomen, “But the Consular Officer told me…” followed by information that the consular officer suggested that a work visa was not necessary. Of course, consular officials will continue to offer their help and advice on this topic. So I write this blog as a reminder and wish that those applying for visas will remember that on this particular issue of whether work or business visas are appropriate, consular officials do not always have the last word. Sometimes, it may be a labour inspector or sometimes a border guard or police officer. There are risks to be weighed and decisions to be made, and it will be important to keep an open mind even in the face of official advice.