The Role Of A Psychologist In Consular Processing/Waiver Of Admissibility Applications

by Jill Foley Torres

Many of the considerations for extreme hardships (source Instructions for I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility- Department of Homeland security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services- page 7 revised 06/04/12) are addressed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-IV-TR's multiaxial diagnostic system. For example, Axis I addresses mental health conditions. Axis II addresses personality disorders, learning disabilities, mental retardation, developmental disabilities, etc. Axis III addresses the client's medical history. Axis IV addresses psychosocial issues such as financial stress, vocational problems and issues regarding acculturation, among many others. Finally, Axis V, the Global Assessment of Functioning, is used to delineate the client's overall level of functioning given the results of the evaluation (see Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Text revision pages (27-37; 2000 edition).

The role of the psychologist in these cases is to assess the United States citizen or lawful permanent resident to determine hardships as they relate to the DSM-IV-TR multiaxial system. In assessing hardships, the psychologist conducts a thorough clinical interview, makes behavioral observations and reviews corroborating data (e.g. medical records, psychological records and the client's affidavit of his or her hardships.) In addition, objective data is gathered utilizing well-standardized psychological test(s). The psychologist endeavors to answer the referral question, "What are the client's hardships?" by assessing the client's current and past mental health (Axis I and II), reviewing the client's medical conditions (Axis III) and the client's psychosocial hardships (Axis IV). The psychologist often consults with the client's attorney. In order to do so, the psychologist asks the client to sign a release form authorizing permission to speak to the attorney and to release the report to the attorney.

Psychological evaluations for consular processing are unique in many ways. They are most certainly forensic in nature because the referral question is administrative and the report is used by attorneys and reviewed by consular officers. On the other hand, the conclusions of the psychological evaluation are both quantitative and qualitative. Hardships, as assessed by a psychologist, can be as distinct as a well-documented medical or mental health problem or as unique as describing an individual's particular vulnerabilities to prolonged separation from a spouse or parent (history of abuse, trauma survivor, etc.)

The psychologist is not rendering a legal opinion as to whether or not the client meets the bar of "extreme hardship." Similarly, for a psychologist the "answer" to the referral question is not "yes or no" as if often the case in a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) evaluation, a competency to stand trial evaluation and child custody evaluations. Herein the difference is that the psychologist describes and substantiates the hardships through testing, observation, reviewing records and clinical interviews.

Although psychologists are often trained to conceptualize evaluations as being distinctly clinical or forensic, consular processing evaluations challenge this dichotomy. Many of the U.S. citizen/resident clients are foreign born and speak English as a second language; therefore, the clinician must have multicultural competence not only in understanding and conceptualizing the client's language, behavioral presentations and mental health symptoms but in choosing appropriate psychological tests and making qualifying statements regarding the test results based on cultural norms. Furthermore, psychologists working with these cases often have limitations with regard to psychological tests as many of the well-standardized tests have not been translated into the clients' languages.

Another unique issue in consular evaluations is the psychologist is not an advocate for the client. Instead, the psychologist describes the specific vulnerabilities regarding the client's mental health. Rather than merely explaining and describing the hardships, the psychologist expounds upon how the client's psychological and psychosocial vulnerabilities would interplay with a denial of his or her spouse's or parent's visa application. In addition, psychologists may discuss the contraindications for relocating to another country specifically as it applies to mental health and psychosocial issues. Medical issues can also be included as Axis III of the DSM-IV-TR addresses medical issues.

Although the psychologist has the client's mental well-being and the accurate and truthful reporting of hardships as his or her primary focus, caution should be taken in the rare instances when attorneys or clients ask the clinician to omit information they believe may be detrimental to their cases. In these situations, the ethical psychologist does not omit major psychological or psychosocial information but they can-and should-think carefully about how to report the information. In addition, the psychologist should not embellish or inflate the psychological evaluation results to fit their conclusions.

About The Author

Jill Foley Torres provides both counseling services and immigration psychological evaluations to individuals facing immigration issues including applying for a Visa, facing deportation proceedings, VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) applicants and political asylum applicants are welcome. Ms. Foley Torres also provides evaluations for adoption canidates.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.