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Visa Processing Articles

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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Department of State Launches Online Application Status Check System

The Department of State (“DOS”) has announced and launched an online system which allows applicants who have cases pending with DOS to check the status on their applications.    The system works for both Immigrant Visa (IV) and Non-Immigrant Visa (NIV) applications filed/pending at either the National Visa Center (NVC) or at a U.S. Consular Section abroad.

The system asks for a case number (for IV cases) or Application ID/Case Number of consular cases and displays (at this point, fairly limited) information about the designated case.   We hope that DOS would continue expanding the functionality and the availability of information to make it more valuable to applicants who have cases pending with DOS.

It is important to note that the DOS Visa Status Check system is different and separate than the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) online status check system which provides information on cases filed with USCIS (such as petitions for an immigration benefit or applications for status).

We welcome the introduction of DOS’s Visa Status Check system but hope that DOS would expand the system to allow more detailed information to be provided in order to make the system really useful and to allow applicants for visas to obtain timely information on the outcome of their case.    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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New USCIS Fee for Immigrants Entering the US for First Time After Consular Processing

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) has announced that effective February 1, 2013, USCIS will begin collecting an additional USCIS Immigrant Fee of $165.00 from foreign nationals seeking admission as permanent residents to the U.S.    The fee will apply to immigrant visa applicants who have received their visa approval from a U.S. Consulate abroad and must be paid directly to the U.S. before the immigrants (and their families) travel to the U.S. for the first time as immigrants.

What is the USCIS Immigrant Fee?

In its press release, USCIS explains that the fee was established by the September 24, 2010 fee change rule (last time the fees were revised in a substantial manner) and will is being introduced now after collaboration between USCIS and the Department of State (“DOS”) on how to best collect the fee without disrupting the existing procedures.  The fee is imposed to recover the costs of processing immigrant visas in the United States after immigrant visa holders receive their visa packages from DOS. This includes staff time to handle, file and maintain the immigrant visa package, and the cost of producing and delivering the permanent resident card.    See Federal Register notice.

It is important to understand that this fee is in addition to the fees already collected by USCIS and DOS (via the National Visa Center).

How Should the New Fee be Paid?

The new fee will have to be paid online through USCIS website after immigrant visa applicants receive their visa package from DOS (usually the U.S. Consulate) and before they depart to the U.S.   DOS will be providing such applicants with specific information on how to submit payment when they attend their consular interview.  Acceptable methods of payment would be checking account information or debit/credit card, drawn on U.S. funds.

Who is Affected by the New Fee?

All immigrant visa applicants who process their immigrant visas through a U.S. Consulate abroad (including Canada and Mexico) will be required to pay the new fee, starting February 1, 2013.   USCIS processes approximately 36,000 immigrant visa packages (green card “activations”) each month.  Please note that permanent residency applicants who process their green cards from within the U.S. will not have to pay the new fee — for example, I-485 applicants to adjust status from within the U.S. will not have to pay the fee.   Also, prospective adoptive parents whose child will enter the United States under the Orphan or Hague processes are exempt from the new fee.

What Happens If the Fee is Not Paid?

The applicant will not receive a green card until the required USCIS Immigrant fee is paid.    However, failure to pay does not affect the lawful status of the applicant.   While the applicant can use their Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Record, for one year to document they are a lawful permanent resident, once that I-94 stamp expires, the applicant will need to possess a green card as evidence of their lawful permanent resident status.

Conclusion

We are hopeful that USCIS and DOS will establish a clear process to inform applicants, especially those who are currently undergoing their immigrant process, of the new requirement to pay the fee before the green card is produced.   Our office will continue to monitor this new fee and related procedures and provide updates.   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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US Consulates in India Expand Interview Waiver Program to Include H and L Visas

Some of our clients and readers are aware that in March 2012, the U.S. Embassy in India introduced the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) which allows eligible individuals to apply for certain types of visa without being interviewed in person by a U.S. consular officer.    Under this program, holders of B, J-2, H-4, L-2, C, D visa holders, in addition to children under 7 years of age and elderly applicants over 80 years of age could have their in-person interview waived.

Last week, in a press release from November 19, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in India announced that the IWP would be expanded to include (1) H-1B and individual (non-blanket) L-1 workers, (2) F-1 students returning to the same school/program; and (3) children applying before their 14th birthday traveling on any visa.

About the Interview Waiver Program

The Interview Waiver Program was introduced in March 2012 and allows individuals who seek to obtain U.S. visa stamp and who meet the eligibility requirements to skip the interview by a consular officer step.    According to the U.S. Mission in India, this program has been successful so far and will be expanded to allow additional applicants to take advantage of the streamlined procedure.

Another reason behind this move is also the increasing demand in U.S. visas in India.    In 2011, consular officers in India processed nearly 700,000 nonimmigrant visa applications, an increase of over 11 percent over the previous year.   At the current time, applicants have to wait fewer than ten days for a visa interview to be scheduled and, according to the Department of State, spend less than one hour at U.S. consular facilities in India.   In addition to the Interview Waiver Program, in September 2012, the U.S. Mission in India introduced additional changes to the application process, including the payment, biometrics and interview steps.

Interview Waiver Program Eligibility Requirements

Under the expanded program, the following types of visas are eligible for the interview waiver program:

  • Business/Tourism (B1 and/or B2);
  • Students (F-1) returning to attend the same school and same program;
  • Temporary workers on H-1B visas or on individual L-1A or L-1B visas who are returning to work for the same petitioner in the same classification and the previous visa has not expired for more than 12 months;
  • Dependent (J2, H4, L2);
  • Transit (C) and/or Crew Member (D) – including C1/D;
  • Children applying before their 14th birthday traveling on any visa class;
  • Applicants applying on or after their 80th birthday traveling on any visa class.

There are additional requirements, all spelled out at the www.ustraveldocs.com website.  Among the most notable are (1) the previous visa must have been issued in India, must be issued after November 1, 2008 (for dropbox use) or after August 1, 2004 (biometrics required);  (2) there must not be a “Clearance Received” annotation on the previous visa; and (3) the previous visa must not have expired for more than 48 months (for most classifications, 12 months for H-1B or L-1 visas).

Conclusion

We encourage the U.S. Mission in India’s efforts to streamline the application process and allow applicants, especially H-1B or L-1 workers who are often under time pressure to return to their employment, to process their visas faster.    It should be noted, however, that even though some visa applicants may be able to take advantage of the interview waiver program, the U.S. Consular Section officers are likely to call for an interview any applicant whose application paperwork is missing or if there are questions about one’s continued eligibility.

As always, prior to submitting a visa application, please remember to check with the U.S. consulate regarding documentation requirements for the specific visa type.  As the U.S. consulates in India are implementing the new application processes, we recommend that you stay flexible, and build in extra lead time to accommodate travel itineraries.    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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Changes Affecting the U.S. Visa Application Process in India

The United States Embassy in India announced modifications to the U.S. visa application procedures effective September 26, 2012.    The U.S. Embassy is introducing a new process to be followed by all U.S. visa applicants; these include H-1B and L-1 visa applicants as well as individuals applying for other type of visa for entry to the United States.

The New Visa Processing System

The new visa processing system will utilize a new website at www.ustraveldocs.com/in to further standardize procedures and to simplify fee payment and appointment scheduling.  Through the new website, all visa applicants will be able to fill out the necessary application forms, find out what documents are required, pay visa application fees, schedule an appointment for biometrics collection, and schedule an interview at the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

For the first time, the new system will also allow the applicants to schedule their appointments online or by phone.  Visa applicants will be able to have their questions answered via telephone, email, or online chat.  See the phone numbers and hours of operations.  In addition, visa applicants will be able to pay application fees via Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) or via mobile phone.   Applicants will also be able to pay in cash at more than 1,800 Axis bank branches.

Two Appointments Necessary

One important change is that under the new system, applicants will have to make two appointments.  Prior to their visa interviews, applicants will have to visit an Offsite Facilitation Center (OFC) to submit their fingerprints and a photo.   Located at different locations from the Embassy and Consulates in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai, the OFCs will reduce overcrowding at U.S. consular facilities and speed applicant processing.   Most applicants will need to visit an OFC only once.

Visa applicants who plan to apply for a U.S. visa before September 26, 2012, should follow the established process.

Conclusion

We welcome the changes the U.S. Embassy in India is implementing in hope that it would provide clearer process, faster turnaround time and fair adjudication.   Our office supports a number of clients in their visa stamp applications and we are hopeful that the changes are positive.

As always, prior to submitting a visa application, please remember to check with the U.S. consulate regarding documentation requirements for the specific visa type.  As the U.S. consulates in India are implementing the new application processes, we recommends that you stay flexible, and build in extra lead time to accommodate travel itineraries.    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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