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What happens behind the scenes when you apply for a U.S. visa

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I'm really curious to know what exactly happens when one applies for visa in a U.S. consulate (in Canada or India for example). Why some people have to go through additional administrative process, and why the process could take so long? Why do they repeat the administrative process again if you leave the country for even one day? Why no one cares about all the complaints of people who are stuck out of the country away from their loved ones? (Just search google for "221g administrative processing canada" for example!)

Administrative processing, officially referred to as Security Advisory Opinion (SAO), could be a most frustrating process for US visa applicants. The Office of the Secretary of State for Visa Services maintains, though, that it is a necessary process for sifting out terrorists, spies, and unscrupulous people that illegally transfer sensitive technologies. It also claims it only affects 2% of applicants, so if you're unlucky to be chosen, be prepared to wait 12-360 days for a response, which might be a revocation of your previously approved visa. Most times, though, you would be approved.

What they do during administrative processing is pretty much background checks. Based on your background, application data or, specifically, nationality, you will be assigned one or more categories or class:

Visas Mantis: (potential illegal transfer of sensitive technology)
Visas Bear (for foreign government officials, representatives to international organizations, and their families)
Visas Donkey (name hits, certain nationalities)
Visas Merlin (for refugees and asylees)
Visas Eagle (certain nationals of Cuba, China, Russia, Iran, Vietnam)
Visas Condor (certain nationalities e.g Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates,Yemen.)
Visas Hawk (for immigrant visas).
Visas Horse (diplomatic visa holders of certain nationalities)
Visas Pegasus (officials of Commonwealth of Independent States)

Afterward, your information is forwarded to the pertinent agencies for a very thorough check-- mostly FBI. Others could be CIA, DEA, U.S. Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Interpol, and the Department of State's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.

This is where the delay really occurs. If everything goes well, you can have your approved visa in as little as three weeks, but if there is a problem of any sort, a delay could be anything from 30days to 360days. The most painful part is that you dont know exactly how long it's going to take, and there are no step by step updates, so you are stuck in a timeless time of waiting. Here are some reasons for delay:

1. Errors in the visa submission : The US Embassy from the country you are applying might mistakenly submit your information in a wrong format (different from what the agencies want), so the agency returns the data to the embassy. This obviously prolongs the security check and approval process. This situation happens every now and then, but it seems that the various agencies are working to standardize the submission format, which would help reduce such mistakes.

2. False Hits(Especially for Visas Mantis and Visas Condor): If your name matches that of someone on the FBI's (or any other agency's) list, you will be subjected to more scrutiny till you are either cleared or marked as a concern to security. Imagine if you are from a country with many identical names, this process will take much longer for you, and this accounts for most of the average processing time differences across various countries.

3. Visa Burden: If you apply at a peak time, when a lot of people are seeking to travel, this process will obviously take much longer. The agencies do not have enough personnel to deal with the spike, so they just do the best they can. Sometimes there are even backlogs, and this is why some people dont get their visas for more than a year. More so, the agencies prioritize certain visa classes, therefore when there is an overload, certain requests are sidelined. For example, the FBI prioritizes Visas Condor and Visas Mantis.


4. Hits: If your name and information submitted by the Embassy matches the one in any agency's database, then you might want to forget about traveling any time soon because they will resort to fetching as much information as they possibly could. This would take a long time since they might have to request information from other non-related sources-- sometimes this could require judicial approval. In addition, some agencies are yet to centralize their information storage systems, which means that it could be necessary to request
paper files from branch offices. If you are considered a security threat, the agency will write a security advisory opinion on you and then send it back to the State for Visa Services, who then revokes your visa.



The biggest problem of the waiting process is that you do not have any access to the nature of the delay. You could call the consular a million times, and they would say the same exact thing-- "your application is undergoing administrative processing..." While the reasons of establishing such procedure is understandable, it seems inhumane to put people in the prison of time just because they want to travel to the United States-- mostly to add to economic or/and intellectual growth of the nation. It is thus evident that the US government, especially in the context of this problem, is yet to realize the delicate balance between securing borders and opening doors.

Is the government aware of the pains this process causes to applicants (See https://openhomelandsecurity.ide... )? Apparently, they are aware, and they say they are working towards a faster and better system-- although they admit that it will always be thorough and thus protracted. But the good news is that there are signs of improvement. The agencies and State for Visa Services are working towards a more efficient partnership in order to streamline the process. The agencies are hiring more personnel and upgrading their technology tools to meet the demand for visa checks. Hopefully, things will get better in the coming years.

However, it is important for visa applicants to apply well ahead of their intended travel date if possible. This gives some cushion for the time required for the processing just in case such applicants are picked. And for those who are stuck in the timeless time of administrative processing, I encourage them to remain hopeful, and in unusually long cases, consult an attorney, contact a senator, or an organization such as the International Visa Office for individuals in the scientific community (including students)

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Moved from IR-1/CR-1 Progress Reports to General Immigration-Related Discussion.

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Sometimes you undergo AP just because you went in the wrong season and wrong time and believe it or not because it was the wrong weather in the US. I had that happen to me. That's pretty much what the VO said " Your Visa has been approved however I can't issue your visa at this time because your background check wasn't completed prior to your interview. " and she said they would get back to me next week. It took them 6 weeks. That was because there was a massive snowstorm across east coast USA and it was right after Christmas. People in DC didn't make it to work and not to mention it was the holiday season and there weren't many people doing the paperwork to begin with. Needless to say it took them 6 weeks to issue my visa. Online many people faced the same issue and everyone pretty much got their Visas the same week as I did across the globe since there were people from other countries besides my home country posting on that site.

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