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Administrative Processing Security Clearances

All foreign nationals who apply at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad for a U.S. visa are screened before a visa is issued. It is imperative that clear and concise information about the applicant's studies, teaching, research, or other activity be provided at the initial stage of the visa application process. In some cases, a visa is issued within a matter of days.  However, in many cases it is determined at the consular level that further security checks known as "administrative processing" are needed. 

Issues that may cause problems or delays in the visa application process

  • The applicant has not spelled his/her name consistently on all documents (passport, visa application, supporting documentation). This can cause delays and confusion. The name given on the visa application and supporting documentation should be exactly the same as the name listed in the passport.
  • The applicant has not read and followed the tips and guidance on the website of the U.S. consular post having jurisdiction over the visa application.
  • The consular post cannot understand the kind of work the person is doing and officers cannot assess the risk/benefit of granting the person a visa. A security clearance will likely be requested if the field is unclear.
  • The applicant is from a country considered to pose a risk or is working in a field that is considered "sensitive" in some way.
  • There are other individuals with the same or similar names. The consulate must rule out any incidents and clear up any "hits" the Consular Lookout (CLASS) system reveals on the name(s) in question.

The consular officer may tell the individual that a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) is needed and that he/she will be notified when it has been completed. The Department of State (DOS) will neither discuss nor reveal the reason for a security advisory opinion on a particular case.

Security Advisory Opinion (SAO)

If an SAO is needed, the consular post will ask the Department of State in Washington, D.C. to initiate the process of requesting clearances from various government agencies and databases including the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Interpol, the national criminal and law enforcement databases, the DOS Bureau of Non-proliferation, and others. The consular posts cannot issue a visa stamp until they get a response from DOS in Washington DC. There is no statutory turn-around time however most cases are resolved within 60 days of the visa interview.

There is no way to know ahead of time if an SAO will be required, so it is advisable that visa applicants take the following steps in advance of their visa application:

  • Discuss travel plans with Immigration Specialist before departing U.S.
  • Talk with supervisor ahead of travel to have back-up plan in case return is delayed.
  • Follow all instructions from the Consulate web site and write name consistently on all documents and on DS-160 form.

Other Non-SAO Related Reasons for Visa Processing Delays and/or Denials

  • Failure to fulfill criteria for requested visa status: All applicants need to fulfill multiple criteria to the satisfaction of the consular officer. The burden of proof lies on the applicant to demonstrate that the documents presented are genuine, the stated objectives are accurate, he/she has adequate financial resources, and he/she intends to return to the home country upon completion of the stated activity (except in the case of H-1B applications).
  • Consulate Closings: Occasionally, the DOS will make a decision to close a U.S. consulate either temporarily or permanently. Temporary closing may be a result of political unrest in the country, imminent threats to the consulate itself, political decisions on the part of the U.S. government, or because of technological difficulties.
  • U.S. Political Positions / Services to U.S. Citizens in Host Country: Sometimes delays in visa processing can be caused because of diplomatic considerations. Delays can also be caused when Consulate resources need to be re-directed towards the assistance of U.S. citizens who are in the host country.

Steps to take if Student/Scholar is Delayed or Denied by U.S. Visa Application Process

  • Report any delays to Immigration Services. While we cannot assist in expediting the process, it is important that we track these cases and report them to the UMass Chan administration and government relations staff and other related entities. These statistics are used to lobby government agencies for increased cooperation at improving and expediting security clearances. 
  • In the case of a visa denial, the consulate provides a written statement indicating the reason for denial. If the applicant has additional evidence that could overcome the stated reason for denial, he/she is free to re-apply.
  • Unfortunately, congressional offices are unable to help expedite visa issuance or overturn a consular officers' decision to deny a visa (unless they can present new evidence to support new visa application / issuance). The DOS considers this to be a matter of national security and will not circumvent the SAO process under any circumstances. 

UMass Chan Salary / Benefits for Individuals who are Delayed by U.S. Visa Application Process

UMass Chan departments should decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle this issue. Decisions about whether to place someone on unpaid leave, use vacation days, or terminate employment should be made at the departmental level. Please notify Immigration Services of any such decisions, as they may affect visa documentation that has been filed on behalf of UMass Chan with the Department of Labor and/or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.