Echoing bby_horne and Stephen's comments, there are currently too many discrepancies between individual embassies and consulates and how they go about issuing Family-Based Visas (K-1, K-3, CR-1, etc). More training and stricter control by the DoS would go a long way in making sure that individual consulates and individual consular officers are not overstepping bounds, conducting visa interviews with fairness, and behaving in a professional manner becoming of a United States government official.
A cable in February of 2004 was sent from the Department of State to all embassies and consulates issuing visas concerning denials and returns of visa petitions. Part of the cable contained this information: "In adjudicating visa cases involving petitions, posts should bear in mind three important factors: A. the consular officer's role in the petition process is to determine if there is substantial evidence relevant to petition validity not previously considered by DHS, and not to merely readjudicate the petition; B. the memo supporting the petition return must clearly show the factual and concrete reasons for recommending revocation (observations made by the consular officer cannot be conclusive, speculative, equivocal or irrelevant) and; C. consular officers must provide to the applicant in writing as full an explanation as possible of the legal and factual basis for the visa denial and petition return. Post must maintain a copy of the returned petition, other evidence relevant to the case, and a copy of the written notification of the denial."
"In general, an approved petition will be considered by consular officers as prima facie evidence that the requirements for classification - which are examined in the petition process - have been met. Where Congress has placed responsibility and authority with DHS to determine whether the requirements for status which are examined in the petition process have been met, consular officers do not have the authority to question the approval of petitions without specific evidence, generally unavailable to DHS at the time of petition approval, that the beneficiary may not be entitled to status due to fraud, changes in circumstances or clear error on the part of DHS in approving the petition. Conoffs should not assume that a petition should be revoked simply because they would have reached a different decision if adjudicating the petition."
...Yet in 2010, consular officers across the globe have felt free to ignore this information and regularly deny family-based visa petitions for subjective reasons, and then refuse to give any clear reasons for denial. A clear framework and set of rules should be distributed AND ENFORCED at all US Embassies and Consulates.
As an American citizen concerned about our domestic security, I can understand the need for scrutiny on visa applicants, even in the family-based category, to weed out fraud and prevent terrorism. However, I think there needs to be more uniformity, transparency, and fairness as to how consular officers deal with foreign visa applicants in ALL embassies. For example, the US Consulates in Casablanca, Morocco and Guayaquil, Ecuador often deny family-based visas for "lack of bona fide relationship", yet the consular officers REFUSE to accept any proof of relationship from the beneficiary at the interview. Is that not the point of the visa interview: for the visa applicant to demonstrate to the CO that he/she HAS a bona fide relationship and comes with evidence? Compare this stance to that of the US Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine or London, England, where proof of relationship is rarely asked for and family-based visas are rarely denied. All visa applicants MUST have the opportunity to present evidence to the consular officer at their interview, regardless of WHERE the interview takes place.
I also know of a few visa applicants and US citizen petitioners who were asked completely inappropriate questions during their interviews, including details on their private sexual relations. This is completely UNACCEPTABLE and UNPROFESSIONAL. Consular officers are determining whether the relationship is bona fide, and that can certainly done without invasive questions infringing on the privacy of the applicant.
In short, I would advocate better transparency and training, more uniform regulations, and better oversight of consular officials. If all consulates across the globe had uniform standards to issue visas and conduct the interview process, I can see two benefits:
A) Families are less likely to be split up, as proper evidence can be presented, denials will be minimized, and the family-based reunification visas will work as they are meant to.
B) Consular officers and embassies and consulates will be forced to be more rigorous applying uniform standards to all applicants regardless of where they are located in the world, which might help further keep terrorists from entering US soil. The attempted terrorist attack on December 25, 2009 was certainly showing loopholes in our airport security, but even more importantly, the holes in the visa application and interview process as well as information and responsibility sharing by DoS, DHS, and other relevant bodies involved in granting US visas.