Screening Procedures and Potential Issues for all U.S. Visa Applicants

All individuals who apply at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad for a U.S. entry or re-entry visa are screened before the visa is issued. Therefore it is imperative that clear and concise information about the applicant’s studies, teaching, research, or other activity should be provided at the initial states of the visa process. In most cases, the visa is issued within a matter of days or weeks. However, in some cases it is determined at the consular level that further checks are needed.

Issues that may cause problems or delays in the visa application process - Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs) - Preventing subjectivity to SAO -
Template letter for travel - Other reasons for delays or denials - Steps to take in delays/denials - Effects on salary / benefits

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. In most cases, security clearances are completed within 30 days; however, there is no set time frame in which they are required to respond. The Department of State (DOS) will neither discuss nor reveal the reason for a security advisory opinion on a particular case.

Please note that some consulates just take longer to issue visas because they are busier posts or have less staffing. Consulates typically post their average visa processing times, which can be helpful for determining whether or not an applicant is truly being delayed either due to security or other issue.

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Security Advisory Options (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, but typically for F & J visa applicants, there is a response within 14 – 30 days. SAO’s for H visa applications may take longer (up to 60 days).

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Preventing Subjectivity to Security Advisory Opinions

Although discretion to request SAOs always rests with the consular post, there are ways to ensure that the U.S. Consulate has the information needed to determine if such a clearance is really necessary:

  • Follow all directions from the Consulate and web site and lists his/her name consistently on all documents.
  • Review the visa and travel information completely
  • Current students, employees and contingent workers should discuss travel plans with Immigration Services before leaving the U.S.
  • Researchers should obtain a brief, concise letter from the faculty sponsor or other department official describing the nature of the research.

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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 or O-1 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. 

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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 UMMS 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. National attention has now been focused on this issue and the need for the agencies involved to improve their systems and procedures. Many steps have already been taken to streamline interagency communication. 
  • 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. However, a combination of efforts on the part of congressional representatives, teaching and research institutions like UMMS, and higher education associations has resulted in high-level awareness of the problems and there are on-going efforts for improvement.

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

UMMS departments should decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle this issue. Decisions about whether to place someone on unpaid leave, charge 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 UMMS with the Department of Labor and/or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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