Consular Visa Processes

DHS Announces Visa Sanctions on Four Countries

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on September 13, 2017 that visa sanctions would be imposed on Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone due to lack of cooperation in accepting their nationals ordered removed from the United States. Some of the specific visa sanctions announced were:

Update: State Department now using Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants

News Release from Jewell Stewart & Pratt PC – June 5, 2017 As noted in our prior post, the Department of State recently published a Notice of request for emergency approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its new form, Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants. The form was designed to collect extra information from visa applicants who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibility.

According to a news report from The Washington Post, Form DS-5535 was approved by the OMB and has been in use at U.S. embassies and consulates since May 25, 2017. A copy of the form is currently available on the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Turkey website. The extra information it collects includes:

  • Countries visited over the last fifteen years
  • Email addresses used in the past five years
  • Social media handles and aliases used in the past five years

Form DS-5535 is authorized on an emergency basis through November 2017, but as The Washington Post article notes, it is expected to be authorized on a permanent basis.

© Jewell Stewart & Pratt PC 2017

Department of State plans to heighten screening and vetting of visa applicants: Update

As noted in our prior blog post, a Department of State cable sent by Secretary Tillerson on March 17, 2017 provided immediately effective guidance to all U.S. diplomatic and consular posts regarding the screening and vetting of visa applications.

On May 4, 2017, the Department of State published a Notice of request for emergency OMB approval and public comment on a new Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants. This form would collect information from visa applicants who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibility.

State Department guidance to consular posts on heightened screening and vetting of visa applicants worldwide: "all visa decisions are national security decisions"

Following the issuance of Executive Order 13780 by President Trump on March 6, 2017 (banning visa issuance to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) and the associated presidential memo to the Secretaries of State, Justice, and Homeland Security directing their agencies to implement protocols and procedures on screening and vetting of visa applicants, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a series of four cables to U.S. consular posts abroad. 

Extraordinary visa wait times at U.S. consular posts in India

News Release from Jewell Stewart & Pratt PC The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has reported that U.S. Consular Posts in India are experiencing extraordinary wait times for nonimmigrant visa interview appointments. The wait times for all categories other than B, F, and J are currently:

These wait times are likely to continue, if not worsen, during the summer. Indian nationals who are considering obtaining a new visa may therefore wish to defer that travel until the backlogs have subsided; or, if their travel is essential, to be prepared for long delays in the scheduling of visa interviews. AILA provides the following helpful reminders:

  • The Mission India visa appointment system allows requests for expedited appointments. First priority goes to cases with humanitarian issues. Second priority goes to business emergencies; such requests must include reasons why the need to travel is urgent, why advance planning was not possible, the impact to the business if the travel does not occur, etc.
  • Applicants for a petition-based visa must have already obtained USCIS approval of the underlying petition before requesting an interview.
  • If an Indian national has reason to travel to another jurisdiction, applying outside of India as a Third Country National may be an option. Such applications are mostly likely to be successful in petition-based cases where INA §214(b) does not apply (i.e., H-1B and L-1).

Jewell Stewart & Pratt will continue to monitor progress and will report significant developments here.

AILA members can access the original post at www.aila.org (doc. no. 16061330, dated June 13, 2016).

© Jewell Stewart & Pratt PC 2016

Implications of the Infosys settlement for B-1 visas

What can employers learn from Infosys’ recent settlement with federal prosecutors? Ultimately, the more conservatively one follows the immigration law, the more limited one’s interest may be. The government alleged that Infosys misused B-1 visitor visas – inexpensive, for short term stays, and for a narrowly-defined range of commercial activities – to bring foreign workers to the United States to perform skilled labor, for long periods of time, that should have required H-1B visas. It alleged that Infosys submitted false statements to deceive U.S. consular officials into granting B-1 visas to workers, and Customs and Border Protection officers into granting them entry to the United States. This included letters stating the purpose of travel as “meetings” when the true purpose was activities not authorized under a B-1 visa. The government also alleged that Infosys directed the workers themselves to take part in the deception. Infosys did not admit to the allegations of fraud and misfeasance, but agreed to a fine of $34 million.

U.S. Embassy in India announces new visa processing system

News Release from Jewell & Associates, PC – September 17, 2012 The U.S. Embassy in India is implementing a new visa processing system throughout the country. It will standardize procedures and simplify fee payment and appointment scheduling through a new website, www.ustraveldocs.com.

Applicants will be able to schedule appointments online or by phone. The new system will allow companies and travel agents to purchase multiple fee receipts for group travel, and it accommodates the scheduling of group and emergency appointments.

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 fingerprints and a photo. It is hoped that this will reduce congestion at consular facilities. Most applicants will need to visit an OFC only once.

Beginning September 26 visa applicants will be able to pay application fees by Electronic Fund Transfer, mobile phone, or in cash at a designated bank. Applicants will be able to have their questions answered by phone, email, or online chat. Call center staff will answer questions in Hindi, English, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, or Telugu.

The Department of State hopes that, in conjunction with its Interview Waiver Program introduced in March, some applicants will be able to complete all visa requirements without having to visit a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

© Jewell & Associates, PC 2012

State Department notice on visa delays at U.S. Consulates abroad

News Release from Jewell & Associates
The State Department recently posted a notice on its web site, warning applicants for nonimmigrant visas at U.S. consulates abroad to expect delays of six to eight weeks in the processing of their visa applications due to enhanced security procedures being implemented prior to the first anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  The notice appears to apply to all nonimmigrant travelers; it does not single out particular nationalities or consular posts at which delays are more likely.  We urge anyone planning to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consular post abroad to determine in advance what the likely delay will be, and to factor this into his or her travel plans.

For our readers’ convenience, the full text of the State Department notice, which was posted on August 23, 2001, is reproduced below:

Notice on Current Visa Processing Situation

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the State Department has been engaged with other U.S. government agencies in an extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to the security of our borders and our nation.

Through the use of supplemental application forms and other measures, visa applications are now subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past. This scrutiny means that visa applications in some instances take longer to process to conclusion than has been customary. We recognize that individual applicants may experience inconvenience and hardship if their application takes longer to process than they expected. We are doing everything possible to meet the legitimate needs of prospective travelers consistent with the priority we must attach to our security and legal responsibilities.

While our consular officers strive to offer visa applicants as expeditious service as possible, their primary responsibility is to carry out U.S. law and to ensure that applicants to whom they issue visas will not pose a threat to the safety and security of the United States and its inhabitants. This is a serious responsibility that must take precedence over other considerations pertaining to a visa application.

We realize that these necessary security measures may affect the travel plans of visa applicants, especially individuals intending to enroll in or continue college and university studies in the United States. We will make every attempt to meet the legitimate needs of prospective travelers to the United States, consistent with the priority of our security and legal responsibilities. We recommend that individuals build in ample time before their planned travel date when seeking to obtain a visa.

Special security screening procedures affect a limited number of prospective travelers. Our goal is to have assured security within a system that is responsive to everyone wishing to visit the United States. However, delays in processing of visas will continue to occur as the Department of State, working with other agencies, brings new information systems on line. Responding to the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress ordered that security inadequacies be identified and addressed.  By legislative instruction, some of this work was specifically to be accomplished by the first anniversary of the attacks. That work is in course now in accordance with those instructions.

The time needed for adjudication of individual cases will continue to be difficult to predict, as necessary new procedures are refined. Visa applicants affected by these procedures are informed of the need for additional screening at the time of application and should expect substantial delays of six to eight weeks or more before a visa can be issued.

We trust that affected applicants will understand that this waiting period is necessary as we strive to make every effort to ensure the safety and security of the United States for all who are here, including foreign visitors.

© Jewell & Associates 2002