Recently I've learned that at least in the UK there is what seems to be an official distinction between two of these terms (though I can never remember which). Apparently one means you did something wrong and goes on your permanent record while the other just means you have to resubmit your paperwork.

But is the same terminology used everywhere or might I get caught out by expecting one term I encounter in some other jurisdiction has the one meaning when they actually intended the other meaning?

For all I know in some countries they might not distinguish such cases at all or some countries might make more than two distinctions. How can I know?

For instance just looking up questions about visa rejection in the .gov.uk domain it looks to me like most people are using the terms to mean their paperwork was accepted but they were not granted visas.

  • If you can't remember which is which, it's probably best to stay away from the tags. – Gayot Fow Feb 13 '15 at 4:53
  • @GayotFow: This is not a meta question. Don't flamebait. Look at the clarity one gets when Googling these terms if you truly believe it's just my faulty memory. – hippietrail Feb 13 '15 at 4:58
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    heh, third result is our meta question on this – Mark Mayo Feb 13 '15 at 5:54
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    Most countries don't have English as their official language, so there is little chance that you would get something called a "visa denial" in Germany, for example. – gnasher729 Feb 14 '15 at 0:24
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    @gnashwer729 In a sense there is. German rules, like those of other Schengen countries are defined in a set of EU regulations, which like all EU regulations are also available in English. – Relaxed Feb 14 '15 at 22:37

About 95% of the questions on this site are about the UK or Schengen members, so let's take those first.

The first exhibit is a Schengen refusal form...

enter image description here

...we can see that the term is unambiguously 'refusal'. This is a standard form used by the 20+ Schengen members.

The next exhibit is a (redacted) UK notice...

enter image description here

...again we see the term is unambiguously 'refusal'. Granted that the UK has changed their logo/letterhead since this image was made, but the form itself is the same. Part 9 of the Immigration Rules is entitled "General grounds for the refusal of entry clearance, leave to enter or variation of leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom "

The rest of the Commonwealth follows this pattern. The next exhibit is from the Canadian Government...

enter image description here

Finally we come to the USA. Their usage is inconsistent, but we can see these exhibits...

enter image description here

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'Refusal' is used in both cases. The USA has another form where they use 'denial'. Interestingly, they use 'rejection' in the same way this site's wiki does...

enter image description here

...note that fees and paperwork are returned to the applicant.

That covers the English speaking world pretty much, I assume your enquiry was constrained to English. The only nation using the terms inconsistently is the USA.

I understand that an unqualified Google search will turn up countless references of many terms. 'rejection', 'denial', and so on. In seeking precision, it's best to limit your search results to sovereign governments because they are the only ones who can issue visas in the first instance (note that you asked about 'nations').

I also understand there's lots of images out there with a big DENIAL stamp on them. Looking closer, you'll see that these are provenanced by immigration advisers using scare tactics. They do not issue visas and have commercial intent in their images. Such exhibits do not count in a serious discussion about terminology. Downloading a few, you can even see the Photoshop stamp in the metadata. And nobody, anywhere puts a stamp on the portrait page of a passport.

There will always be blogs and correspondence and forum questions that use the terms they are accustomed to. Of the 46 questions on this site to date for visa refusals, this answer is correct for about 43 of them.

Adding due to commentary

"Rejection" is much more elusive and mercurial term to nail down. This is because it's usually handled via email or telephone and few people are going to use an internet resource like Stack Overflow to ask about it. The next exhibit is a heavily redacted email sent by a Home Office official (in Croydon) to their external stakeholders.

...as can be seen the author is using 'rejection' as though he expects his audience to be familiar with the term (reasonable, since that's the business they are in). But more importantly, he makes a trenchant differentiation in his statement "...is time we do not spend making decisions..." I.e, rejections prevent them from making grants or refusals. He does not consider 'rejection' to be associated with decision-making.

Also on the same point, they published a strange and mysterious Freedom of Information Act response earlier this week (11 Feb 2015). It is entitled "The total number of rejections made on Indefinite Leave to Remain" and can be found here. I would not even attempt to understand its value or who asked for it. However, they are not talking about refusals. Refusal statistics are published quarterly by the Office of National Statistics so this is something else entirely: visa rejections. The Commonwealth makes similar publications and follows the same conventions. The Schengen convention would follow closely.

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    Great answer! One thing that might make it even better is if the key words "denial", "refusal", "rejection" were highlighted. Specifically I'm having trouble spotting any of those terms in the Canadian document. I won't accept it right away though in case anybody else brings anything up. – hippietrail Feb 13 '15 at 10:03
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    @hippietrail, the Canadian formula uses the second sentence of the notice "I am therefore..."; the American wording is the topic sentence of the 3rd paragraph, but it does not appear to be part of a regimented formulae. The American 'rejection' notice uses 'rejection' in almost all the sentences and definitely appears formulaic. The rest are in the heading in bold font. – Gayot Fow Feb 13 '15 at 10:15
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    Aha there it is! It was only the Canadian I couldn't see. Thanks. – hippietrail Feb 13 '15 at 10:27
  • Here's a funny thing. I search for the form number at the bottom of the Canadian one and found canada-visa-rejection.blogspot.com which has a HTML version of the form but also uses the terms "rejected" and "rejection" in several places. I'd say those are all added in for the site and are not official in any way but confirms my growing feeling that at least "refusal" does in fact have a set official international meaning but that many or most regular people are totally unaware of this officialese. – hippietrail Feb 13 '15 at 10:58
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    @hippietrail, fair point. Answer amended. – Gayot Fow Feb 13 '15 at 11:40

Schengen regulations consistently use “refusal” when an application has been examined and a negative decision has been reached, as shown by the form reproduced in Gayot Fow's answer and by the Schengen Visa Code, e.g. article 32:

Refusal of a visa

  1. Without prejudice to Article 25(1), a visa shall be refused: […]
  2. A decision on refusal and the reasons on which it is based shall be notified to the applicant by means of the standard form set out in Annex VI.
  3. Applicants who have been refused a visa shall have the right to appeal. […]
  4. […]
  5. Information on a refused visa shall be entered into the VIS in accordance with Article 12 of the VIS Regulation.

A refusal implies a specific stamp and an entry in a database. The person who applied for the visa should be provided with a standard form mentioning a specific reason (from a list) and explaining how they can appeal the decision. The application fee is not refunded.

On the other hand, there is no specific term for “denial” or “rejection” (the words do not appear in the regulation). There is an article about consular competence (article 18) and another one about admissibility (article 19).

Here are the relevant bits of article 18:

If the consulate is not competent, it shall, without delay, return the application form and any documents submitted by the applicant, reimburse the visa fee, and indicate which consulate is competent.

And that comes from article 19:

Where the competent consulate finds that the conditions referred to in paragraph 1 have not been fulfilled, the application shall be inadmissible

If a consulate isn't competent or an application isn't admissible (say it was lodged too far in advance), then the consulate obviously won't issue a visa but the difference with an outright refusal is that the applicant should get their money back, there is no database entry or refusal stamp and any biometric data collected should be destroyed.

So the terminology might not be completely obvious but the difference between those outcomes is quite important for the people concerned.

  • +1 for the '...quite important for the people...' Well put – Gayot Fow Feb 13 '15 at 12:06
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    Also the regulation citation. It's perfect. – Gayot Fow Feb 13 '15 at 12:12

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