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Visa Processing Articles

National Visa Center No Longer Requires Original Civil Documents

In an important (and surely welcome by many) announcement, the National Visa Center (NVC) has announced that as of November 12, 2014, they would no longer start requiring and collecting original civil documents in support of immigrant visa (green card) cases.     Most applicants will simply need to submit photocopies of the applicable required civil documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, police certificate, etc.) to NVC and bring the originals to the Consulate for the immigrant visa interview.

New Instructions to NVC Applicants Starting November 12, 2014

After NVC applicants (and their petitioners, as applicable) collect the Affidavit of Support form(s), financial evidence, and supporting civil documents, they are instructed to submit all of the documents to NVC.   As of November 12, 2014, applicants at non-electronic processing posts will be instructed to submit photocopies of their civil documents by mail.   NVC will review the copies and, when the case is documentarily complete, will place the copies into the file, which will be sent to the Consular post, increasing the number of cases that are documentarily qualified.  In other words, not requiring original civil documents is likely to allow more people to complete their NVC process faster.

When the appointment is scheduled, NVC will instruct applicants to bring their original documents to the interview for evaluation and final case processing. Original Affidavit of Support forms will still be submitted to NVC for initial evaluation. Applicants at designated electronic processing posts (and only for those posts) will continue to submit their documents via email.

Conclusion

We welcome this announcement from NVC because it is likely to significantly shorten the time it takes to complete an NVC case.   According to NVC, they expect this slight change in the process to reduce customer wait times and improve the customer experience overall.

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments, or if we can be of any assistance with this or related immigration-related issues.

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US Consulate in Kingston, Jamaica Restricts Third-Country Nationals’ Visa Stamp Applications

The U.S. Consulate in Kingston, Jamaica has announced that effective October 31, 2014, it will restrict the ability of certain (but not all) third-country nationals (TCNs) to apply for and obtain a U.S. visa stamp at the Kingston Consular Section.

TCN Visa Stamp Application Restrictions Effective October 31, 2014

Effective October 31, 2014, the U.S. Consular Section in Kingston, Jamaica will not accept interview applications from third country nationals for the following visa categories and cases:

  • Applicants who have changed their status in the U.S. and who are now seeking a new visa in the new visa category;
  • Applicants who entered the U.S. in one visa category and are seeking to reenter the U.S. in a different visa category;
  • Applicants who have been out of status in the U.S. having violated the terms of their visas or having overstayed the validity indicated on their I- 94s;
  • Applicants who obtained their current visa in a country other than that of their legal residence;
  • Petition-based first time applicants; and
  • Third country nationals who are not resident in Jamaica and who are applying for a B1/B2 visa (including B1/B2 renewals).

According to these restrictions, it is still possible for certain TCNs to obtain an interview appointment and successful U.S. visa stamping in a number of situations but we urge TCNs who consider Jamaica for their stamping to review the requirements very carefully and ensure that they are actually eligible to appear for an interview.

TCNs Should Carefully Consider and Research Their Destination U.S. Consular Section in Advance

As a general matter, even in cases where none of the exclusions apply and even for other U.S. Consular Sections popular for visa stamping with third-country nationals, we recommend that visa applicants contact the desired U.S. Consular Section well in advance of their planned U.S. visa stamping in order to confirm that the Consular Section can actually accept and accommodate their request.    For example, last summer U.S. Consular Sections in Canada restricted their TCN visa appointment availability due to high demand for U.S. visas from Canadian residents.

U.S. Consulates (and our office) generally recommend that the best place to obtain a U.S. visa stamp is at the U.S. Consulate in the applicant’s home of legal residence.    Applicants who appear at a U.S. Consulate at a third country should understand that in many cases, if their visa application is delayed or denied, they may not be able to travel back to the U.S. until they wait for the resolution of their application,  in many cases requiring them to travel to their home country and reapply.

Finally, TCNs going for U.S. visa stamping to Canada, Mexico or some of the adjacent islands should remember that the Automatic Visa Revalidation program would not allow them to travel back to the U.S. if their U.S. visa stamp application is denied/delayed.

Conclusion

While TCN visa applications in Kingston, Jamaica have not been completely eliminated, the restrictions in effect make it unavailable as a destination Consular Section for many U.S. visa stamp applicants.    As noted above, we recommend third-country nationals who consider going for a U.S. visa stamp application at a country other than their country of legal residence to research and consider their options well in advance of their anticipated visa application date.

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments, or if we can be of any assistance with this or related immigration-related issues.

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US and China Agree to Issue Longer-Term Visas for Visitors and Students

The Department of State announced earlier today that starting November 12, 2014, the U.S. and PR China have agreed to start issuing longer-term visas for visitors and students.     Chinese nationals who qualify for a B-category nonimmigrant visa (NIV) may now be issued multiple-entry visas for up to 10 years for business and travel. Qualified Chinese students and exchange visitors and their dependents who qualify for F, M, or J-category visas are now eligible for multiple-entry visas valid for up to five years or the length of their program.   This announcement would provide great relief to the increasing number of Chinese visitors and students in the United States who, under the current regime, are issued single-entry and/or one-year visas to the United States.

Fees and Process for Obtaining U.S. Visas Remains Unchanged

The eligibility, process and the fees for obtaining a U.S. visitor or student visa remain unchanged as a result of this announcement.    The basic visa fee remains $160 and includes passport delivery.   More information on the process, steps and fee payment can be obtained at www.ustraveldocs.com.   The changes are expected to be very popular among Chinese nationals and higher visa application load is expected with a possibility of increased visa processing times.    As it is always the case with U.S. visa stamp applications, proper advance planning is strongly recommended.

Longer Visa Validity Does Not Mean Longer Authorized Stay in the United States

It should be noted specifically that because a U.S. visa stamp has longer validity, it does NOT mean that its holder will be allowed to stay in the United States for longer period.

There is an important distinction between a U.S. visa stamp and authorized stay in the U.S.     A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port of entry where a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will grant admission.   In doing so, the officer will inform the traveler of the permitted length of stay (expiration should be noted in the passport).   The current change in visa validity does NOT change the permitted duration of stay for any visa class.  Remaining in the United States beyond the allowed duration of stay can result in a violation of U.S. immigration laws and may cause ban on entering the United States in the future.

Conclusion

We welcome these rules seeking to make it easier for Chinese nationals to travel to the United States.   The reciprocal rules would also help U.S. passport holders to obtain longer visas to visit China.

We will continue to monitor developments on this topic and provide updates.    Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance or answer any questions.  We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.

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Certain US Consular Visa Processing Fees to Change September 12, 2014

Effective September 12, 2014, the Department of State is changing the visa processing fees.   Some of the fees will increase, while some will decrease.  For example, the fees for K nonimmigrant visa applications will increase.  On the other hand, most immigrant visa processing fees will decrease (some by a substantial amount).

Nonimmigrant Visas

The Department of State is required to recover, as must as possible, the cost of processing a visa application and a stamp through the collection of application fees.  According to the Department of State, for a number of reasons, the current fees for certain types of visas no longer cover the actual cost of processing nonimmigrant visas. As a result, the nonimmigrant visa fee increase will support the addition and expansion of overseas facilities, as well as additional staffing required to meet increased visa demand.

Although most categories of nonimmigrant visa processing fees will remain unchanged, the fee for E visas (treaty-traders and treaty-investors) will decrease while the fee for K visas (for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens) will increase.

Type of Visa Previous Fee New Fee
Treaty Investor and Trader visas (E) $270 $205 ()
Fiancé(e) visas (K) $240 $265 ()
Border Crossing Cards (under age 15) $15 $16 ()

Immigrant Visas

Because of a reallocation of costs associated with immigrant visas, some categories of immigrant visa processing fees will also change as shown below.

Type of Visa Previous Fee New Fee
Immediate Relative and Family Preference Applications $230 $325 ()
Employment-Based Applications $405 $345 ()
Other Immigrant Visa Applications $220 $205 ()
Affidavit of support $440 $330 ()
Determining Returning Resident Status $275 $180 ()

Full Schedule of Consular Fees

For the full and up-to-date schedule of consular application fees, please refer to the Department of State schedule of fees.

Conclusion

We welcome the Department of State’s efforts to make its services more affordable and for its fees to reflect the actual cost of services provided.    It should be noted that for fees paid before September 12, 2014 but when the interview is after September 12, 2014, the Consulate will seek the applicant to pay the difference if the fee has increased.   The Department of State will not issue refunds for fees already paid which are expected to decrease after September 12, 2014.

Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics.  If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.

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Visa Processing System Experiencing Problems – Global US Visa and Passport Processing Delays Possible

We are getting updates from the U.S. Department of State and from other sources that the global visa processing system used by the Department of State to process U.S. visa applications and passports is experiencing technical problems — as a result, U.S. Consulates around the world are unable, at least temporarily, to complete visa application processing.

Database Glitch Causing Increasing U.S. Visa Processing Backlogs

The database which seems to be causing problems is the State Department’s system of record and is used to approve, record and print visas and other documents to ensure that national security checks are conducted on applicants.

The problems have reportedly started on Saturday and the inability to properly process visas has already created a huge backlog of visa applications waiting to be processed.   We are hearing that there may be as many as 50,000 visa applications being on hold in one country only (and growing), as a result.

Are You Experiencing Delays?  Share Your Experience With Us

Are you experiencing delays with your U.S. visa or passport processing as a result of this?   Are you getting any information from the U.S. Consulate?   Please contact us and share your experience.  You can also tweet us at @cilawgroup.   We are trying to combine information from various parts of the world so that we can share with our contacts in Washington, DC and also to report to our readers.

Conclusion

At this time, it is unclear how long this outage would last.  Hopefully, it is something which can be fixed over the next day or two so that normal operations would continue.   However, we caution that residual delays in U.S. visa processing may still linger for days or weeks, especially considering the growing backlog of U.S. visa cases around the world for each hour the system remains down.   If you are planning to apply for a U.S. visa or a U.S. passport, please ensure you plan early in advance and take into consideration that there may be delays in the process.

We will be providing updates on this outage as we have more information.   Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics.  If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.

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Visa Stamp in Canada Alert – TCN Processing Limited Over the Summer

The Department of State (DOS) has just confirmed that due to increasingly heavy demand by Canada-based visa applicants, the seven U.S. visa processing posts (U.S. Consulates) in Canada are extremely limited in their ability to accept TCN cases during the peak demand period of June, July, and August.

TCN refers to “third-country nationals” or non-Canadians who seek to apply for a U.S. visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate in Canada.   Normally, U.S. Consulates prefer for a national of a particular country to appear for a visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate in their own country or at the Consulate serving their country.   When a foreign national appears for a visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate in a third country, where such practice is accepted, the applicant is referred to as a “third-country national.”

According to the Department of State, U.S. Consulates in Canada encourage such TCN applicants to seek appointments elsewhere in the world, such as in the applicant’s home country. Canadian posts offer increased appointment availability for TCNs during non-peak processing times, such as October and November, and January through May.   Emergency cases may seek consideration for scheduling an interview at a Canada post by visiting canada.usembassy.gov.

While it is important to stress that visa interviews and appointments by third-country nationals already scheduled at a U.S. Consulate in Canada will be honored, our office would like to stress proper planning for any international travels for those foreign nationals who are in the U.S. but who would need to obtain a U.S. visa stamp before their return to the U.S.

Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.

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Visa Processing Updates from U.S. Consulates in India

The Department of State (DOS) has provided a number of interesting observations and statistics about the processing of visas at each of the U.S. Consulates in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai.    The reported information is as of late November 2013 but most of it is not time-sensitive and we believe remains current as of today.

U.S. Consulate New Delhi

Nonimmigrant Visas.  The Consulate processes approximately 600-800 applications per day in “off-season”, sometimes 1,000 during the busy summer months.   New Delhi is the fourth busiest U.S. Consulate in the world and has an average approval rate of 75%.   The average wait time for an interview is 38 minutes, the actual interview lasts for an average of 2-4 minutes and an interview is generally available in about 3 days.   New Delhi reports that 97% of the cases are given decision the same day and for those who are approved, it takes 1-3 days to actually get the visa.   The approval rate for H-1Bs is reported at 90% with F-1 student visa approval rates also increasing.

Immigrant Visas.  The Consulate processes approximately 80 immigrant (green card) visas on an average day with the process taking around 1 hour.   There is no backlog and the interviews are scheduled as soon as USCIS sends the case to the Consulate.   New Delhi reports that 95% of the IV applicants are from Punjab.

General Notes.   the Consulate does not do automatic reports for cases which are pending for X days.   The Consulate suggests applicants who are under secondary (administrative) processing to “stay in touch” and reach out to the Consulate if it has been 30 days without a decision.

U.S. Consulate Chennai

Nonimmigrant Visas.  Chennai processes only nonimmigrant visas and has sole responsibility for blanket L-1 visas.  It is the 13th U.S. Consulate in the world in terms of volume and handles 1,200 to 1,300 applications per day, out of which 25% are H-1Bs and 25% are L-1s.   Interviews generally last around 3 minutes and the Consulate strives to provide response for the vast majority of cases on the spot.     Chennal advises that L-1B visa applicants should be expected to explain their job title and how their knowledge if specialized (job description, job duties, and whether there are other companies in the US who do similar work).

General Notes.  The U.S. Consulate in New Delhi handles initial correspondence requests; if the query is specific to Chennai, then it is forwarded internally.   Phone calls are accepted directly between 9 and 10 am local time.   If a case is pending in administrative processing for more than 90 days then an inquiry is appropriate.    Chennai notes that in a significant portion of the cases, they never receive a response to a section 221(g) document request.

U.S. Consulate Mumbai

Nonimmigrant Visas.  The U.S. Consulate in Mumbai handles approximately 216,000 nonimmigrant visa applications per year (14 in the world), of which 22,000 were for H-1B and 12,000 for F-1 visas.   54,000 visa extension applications were processed without an interview.   The average wait time is 45 minutes with a goal of decreasing to 30 minutes per case.     March and December are the busiest months.     For H-1Bs, the Neufeld Memo (right to control) should not be a major issue if USCIS has already approved the petition (after, presumably, considering the Neufeld Memo factors).

Immigrant Visas.  There were 21,000 immigrant visa cases processed in fiscal year 2013.    The processing time difference between K-1 and CR-1 is very small and the goal is to have every interview take 90 minutes or less (now it is a bit longer).

General Notes.  221(g) letters have been revised to be more clear and targeted — “all-inclusive” letters should not be issued any longer.  The Consulate is trying to issue more on-the-spot decisions and rely less on 221(g) letters.     End-client letters (for H-1B holders) are generally not requested any longer.   The Consulate is aiming for a 2-week turnaround time once the additional requested information is provided.     Administrative processing of 90 days is “normal”.   In cases which are returned to USCIS but are affirmed by USCIS the Consulate would typically call the person back to re-interview.

Conclusion

We hope that these tidbits from these U.S. Consulates in India would be helpful to some of our clients and readers who will be attending visa interviews there.   While these U.S. Consulates highlight better approval rates across many visa categories, we still caution that strong preparation for the visa interview is key to success.   Our office is able and happy to assist throughout the visa interview process and we have a number of representation packages, including helping respond to section 221(g) requests or follow-up with Consulates for a long-pending case.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you.  Also, please visit us again or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to ensure that you obtain this and related immigration-related news and announcements.

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Government Shutdown and Immigration: (How) Will It Affect Me? (September 2013 Edition)

While we are hopeful that this is not the case, it appears that the chances of the U.S. federal government shutting down on October 1st are increasing.   We would like to provide some information as to how a possible government shutdown would affect the immigration cases pending or to be filed shortly.   Our office has been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from alarmed clients as to what would happen should the federal government close on October 1 if a deal is not reached on the federal government’s budget.   (See latest Google News)

How Would a Government Shutdown Affect Immigration Cases?

There is no simple answer to this question, as some federal government agencies would continue to operate, some would close partially and some would close almost completely.  Since the last time this kind of shutdown happened was 15 years ago, there are no clear rules and guidance as to what would remain open and what would close.  With respect to immigration, it appears that there would be some disruptions to pending cases and upcoming filings.   Generally, the government is likely to stop all non-essential, all non-self-funded and all non-contractually funded services.  It is also helpful to look at the preparations for the averted April 2011 government shutdown.

USCIS Cases

Since USCIS is funded primarily through application fees, it is expected that most of its services and centers would operate normally, perhaps with slightly diminished staff.  Because USCIS is a government agency which relies on other government agencies to perform its services, there may be certain disruptions; however, overall, case processing at USCIS is expected to resume.   Border processing of immigrants and border enforcement activities would continue as they are deemed “essential.”

Department of State – No (or Slow) Visa Applications; Visa Bulletin Uncertain; NVC Processing Could Continue

The Department of State (DOS) is expected to to cease non-emergency visa services and non-US citizen services at U.S. Consular Posts abroad.  As a result, no new visas are expected to be issued and visa application interviews are likely to be cancelled (or postponed).   U.S. passport applications will not be accepted and processing of submitted applications is likely to be put on hold.

As a comparison, according to data from the Congressional Research Service Report, during the last shutdown in 1995,  approximately 20,000 – 30,000 visas went unprocessed each day and 200,000 applications for U.S. passports went unprocessed.

It is unknown at this point, however, whether the November 2013 Visa Bulletin, which is expected to be issued in early October by the Department of State, will be affected.   Many of our readers are eagerly expecting each Visa Bulletin.

With respect to immigrant visa (family, employment, etc.) cases pending at the National Visa Center (NVC), it is possible that they would continue to be processed as NVC’s staffing funding was under contract.

Department of Labor – LCA, PERM and Audits

It is unclear exactly how the Department of Labor would be affected.   We expect that ETA Form 9035 LCA filings, used most often in connection with H-1B filings, to be affected.  This may mean that no new LCAs can be filed (and those filed may be put on hold) and, as a result, new H-1B filings can be delayed.

ETA Form 9089 PERM labor certifications are expected to be similarly affected.  It is unclear whether the system allowing new PERM labor certification filings would be shut down; however, we expect that processing of PERM labor certification cases to stop during a shutdown.  This holds true for processing of PERM audits and appeals at the BALCA.   Shutdown in PERM processing would further cause PERM case processing delays, on top of the already significant PERM processing times.

Conclusion

While the full extent of the federal government shutdown (if it were to happen over the next couple of weeks) is unknown; we can anticipate some disruptions to government services affecting immigrants.  Perhaps more severe would be the disruptions to visa applications at U.S. Consular Posts abroad, followed by delays or inability to file H-1B and/or PERM labor certifications.   While some of these affected cases would be able to withstand delay, there would be a number of urgent visa or petition cases which would need to be filed or processed.   The shutdown would also create a significant increase in the processing time backlogs for almost all immigration cases.   We urge clients who have time-sensitive cases which may be affected by a possible government shutdown to plan accordingly.

We stand ready to help analyze any cases which are time-sensitive and may suffer severe negative impact by the shutdown.  Please feel free to contact us.   Our office would also continue to monitor developments and provide timely updates.  Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics.

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Fiscal Year 2012 Visitor (B1/B2) Visa Denial Rates

The Department of State (“DOS”) routinely publishes the denial rate for B-1/B-2 visitor visas for each fiscal year (October 1 to September 30).    The fiscal year (FY) 2012 data has been published and we share it with our clients and readers.

It is interesting to note the countries with the highest and lowest denial rates.    Andorra has a 100% denial rate, although we suspect that due to its small size, the actual number of applications may be really small and thus skewing the denial rate.    Other countries with high denial rates are Bhutan (52%), Djibouti (65%), Haiti (54%), Laos (60%), Mauritania (54%), Monaco (57%), Senegal (67%), Somalia (61%), Gambia (73%).

Among the countries with the lowest visitor visa denial rates are Argentina (1.5%),  Chile (2.8%), Croatia (4.4%), Cyprus (1.9%), Hong Kong (1.7%), Qatar (1.2%),  South Africa (2.9%), Uruguay (2.7%).

We recognize that the value in these statistics is not so great for visa applicants since each visa application is reviewed on its own merits and each case is unique.    However, the data is also helpful in noting the denial rates for countries who are hoping to become beneficiaries of the visa waiver program designation (one of the criteria is consistently low denial rate of visitor visas).

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you.  Also, please visit us again or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to ensure that you obtain this and related immigration-related news and announcements.

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DOS Rolls Out DS-260 Online Immigrant Visa Application to Most Applicants

The Department of State (“DOS”) has reported that they are transitioning to an online immigrant visa application as of September 3, 2013.    Immigrant visa applicants who are processing their immigrant visas (green cards) through the National Visa Center (NVC)/U.S. Consulate will now need to complete the DS-260 form online (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration).   Similarly, the Form DS-261 (Choice of Address and Agent) form will be online as well.

The online DS-260 form was, until now, used only for immigrant visa applicants for a few selected consulates.   With the upcoming transition, after September 3, 2013, DOS will require most immigrant visa applicants to complete the DS-260 form online (as opposed to the paper DS-230 form).   Only Diversity Visa and Cuban Family Reunification Parole applicants will continue to use the paper forms (DS-230).  It is important to note that nonimmigrant visa applicants (B-1, H-1B, L-1, etc.) should still continue to use the DS-160 electronic application.

NVC Pending Cases

For those immigrant visa applicants who have a case pending with NVC already, NVC may instruct some applicants who previously submitted Form DS-230 on paper to submit Form DS-260 online.

Conclusion
We welcome DOS’s rollout of the DS-260 system to all applicants.   Even though the DS-260 application form is somewhat more complex to complete than the DS-230 paper form, it should eliminate the amount of paperwork, data entry mistakes and delays which are often associated with processing paper DS-230 forms.     Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you.  Also, please visit us again or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to ensure that you obtain this and related immigration-related news and announcements.
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