For the uninitiated, “administrative processing” is State Department-speak for a temporary visa refusal pending further investigation of a visa application. (9 FAM Appendix E, 404). The applicant typically learns of the temporary refusal when, at the conclusion of the interview, the consular officer issues a written notice stating that under section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act no visa can be issued until additional administrative processing has been completed.
Administrative processing may involve a request by the consular officer for a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) from the Department as to whether the applicant poses a risk to the United States. Before issuing the SAO, the Department may in turn consult with other government agencies, such as law enforcement and intelligence agencies. There are various types of SAOs, such as:
(1) Condor SAOs, which are based on national security concerns, including a concern that the applicant may intend to engage in terrorist activity;
(2) Mantis SAOs, which are based on the applicant’s suspected access to sensitive technology with a potential military application and the unlawful exportation of that technology;
(3) Donkey and National Crime Information Center (NCIC) SAOs, which are based on name matches or “hits” occurring in various databases; and
(4) SAOs related to Communist Party members applying for K-1 or immigrant visas. Consular officers are warned not to reveal to applicants that a case has been referred to the Department for an SAO. (9 FAM Appendix E, 404).
|An example of the SAO process gone awry: According to a 2017 report of the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), when the U.S. Embassy in Beijing sought SAOs on whether individuals were ineligible for visas under 8 U.S.C. 1182(e) because of involvement in forced abortion or sterilizations, the State Department “sometimes waited several years” before providing responses. More than 200 such SAO requests were stuck pending in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. That Bureau, in turn told the OIG that it lacked the resources to completed the SAOs.|
Apart from SAOs, the term “administrative processing” may also be used in various other contexts, such as
(1) when the consular post has decided to perform an investigation to verify information or to check for fraud, on issues such as the legitimacy of a marriage, an applicant’s education or work experience, the authenticity of a marriage or birth certificate, etc;
(2) after the interview if the consular officer’s decision is chosen for review by a supervisor at the consulate; or
(3) after an applicant has withdrawn his or her visa application.
According to the State Department’s website, applicants should wait 60 days for administrative processing to be completed before inquiring further with the Consulate:
Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer…. Most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview…. Before making inquiries about status of administrative processing, applicants or their representatives will need to wait at least 60 days from the date of interview or submission of supplemental documents, whichever is later.
During administrative processing, you can check your case status at the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). You status will show as something like this:
But administrative processing may take much longer than 60 days. Administrative processing is a black hole because the reason for the temporary delay is obscured and the length of that delay is uncertain. Our firm usually follows up to check on the status of administrative processing after 60 days. We typically first contact the consular post, then if no timely response is received, we consider the following steps:
- escalate the inquiry to a supervisor within the consular post
- contact the Department’s Visa Office
- follow up through the committee that provides liaison between the Department and the American Immigration Lawyers Association
- if the case involves a student, scholar, or professional in the sciences applying for a nonimmigrant visa to engage in science-related activities in the U.S., ask the International Visitors Office of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to file an inquiry with the State Department
- file a Congressional inquiry through a member who is willing to be helpful
- file a mandamus action in federal court.
- file a second visa application: while it may be an opportunity to include new supporting evidence, it may also result in slowing down the processing of both visa applications
- proactively filing a Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Application, to provide biographic data that may be helpful for any background/security check
One tip is that if you are renewing your visa the existing unexpired visa normally will not be cancelled and can be used to apply for admission to the U.S., regardless of whether it is in the same or different visa category. (AILA DOS Liaison Q&As, Q13 (Oct. 19, 2017, AILA Doc. No. 17102030). So consider applying early rather than after your visa expires so that you can return to the U.S. on your existing visa if there are unanticipated delays in visa processing. Of course, you need to qualify for admission by CBP under the terms of the existing visa.