“Administrative Processing”: a Black Hole for Visa Applicants

For the uninitiated, “administrative processing” (AP) 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.

Security Advisory Opinions

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. See, for example, More Chinese Student Visa Applicants Will Be Subject to Security-Related Delays;

(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.

Other Types of Administrative Processing

Apart from SAOs, the term “administrative processing” may also be used by the State Department 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) if the applicant has a history of arrests or convictions, the officer may need to review the related records, verify they are genuine, and make a determination as to whether the applicant is eligible for the visa;

(3) after the interview if the consular officer’s decision is chosen for review by a supervisor at the consulate;

(4) after an applicant has withdrawn his or her visa application; and

(5) the State Department refers to the 3-5 day period between when an officer approves a visa and it is stamped into the passport as “administrative processing.”


If you live abroad, apply for your visa as early as possible so that administrative processing is less likely to disrupt your travel schedule.

If you are in the U.S. as a nonimmigrant, such as a student or temporary worker, consider applying to renew your visa before it expires rather than afterwards. If you are subject to administrative processing, your 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). That way you may be able to return to the U.S. on your existing visa while you wait for administrative processing of your new visa application.

How Long Does It Take? How Can You Check Case Status?

The State Department website doesn’t estimate how long administrative processing takes. But it does say that applicants should wait 180 days for administrative processing to be completed before inquiring further with the Consulate. But administrative processing may take longer than 180 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 actions described below.

During administrative processing, you can check your case status at the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).

In the past, the CEAC status would show “Administrative Processing”:

As of March 2020, the State Department has updated CEAC so that while administrative processing is pending the status will show as “Refused.” It further explains that if you are subject to administrative processing “your case will remain refused while undergoing such processing.”

It’s technically correct to refer to an application under administrative processing as “refused” because under section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act such an application is considered refused unless and until the refusal is overcome, such as by a favorable outcome of a security check or by submission of missing evidence. The problem is that by lumping together cases undergoing “administrative processing” and cases that have been refused after administrative processing,” CEAC makes it more difficult for applicants to understand the status of their case. This will trigger more emails to consular posts by applicants asking whether their case is in administrative processing or whether that processing has been concluded with a final refusal.

Taking Action

If you are facing delayed administrative processing, consider the following actions, depending on the particular circumstances of your case:

  1. escalate the inquiry to a supervisor within the consular post
  2. contact the Department’s Visa Office
  3. follow up through the committee that provides liaison between the Department and the American Immigration Lawyers Association
  4. In truly extraordinary circumstances where administrative processing delay will lead to loss of jobs for U.S. workers or significant financial loss to a U.S. company, or where a U.S. federal government agency believes issuance of the visa is important and time sensitive, ask the consular officer to request that the administrative processing be expedited.
  5. file a Congressional inquiry through a member who is willing to be helpful
  6. 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
  7. proactively filing a Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Application, to provide biographic data that may be helpful for any background/security check
  8. file a mandamus action in federal court.

Mandamus Actions in Federal Court

A mandamus action is a lawsuit filed to compel administrative agencies to act. The Mandamus Act, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1361 says, in its entirety:

Action to compel an officer of the United States to perform his duty.

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff.

A mandamus plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he or she has a clear right to the relief requested; (2) the defendant has a clear duty to perform the act in question; and (3) no other adequate remedy is available.

Mandamus can be a relatively simple and quick remedy in situations where the government has failed to act when it has a duty to do so.

In cases where a visa applicant is seeking to compel a consular officer to process a visa application, the government likely will argue that such a claim is barred under a doctrine called “consular nonreviewability.” Although the law is not firmly settled, the courts generally have held under this doctrine that they lack authority to review consular decisions. See, e.g., Kerry v. Din, 135 S. Ct. 2128, 2140 (2015); Saavedra Bruno v. Albright, 197 F.3d 1153, 1159-60 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

Still, the filing of a mandamus action often prompts the government to take whatever action is requested–such as issue a visa–and the case ultimately is dismissed.

45 responses to ““Administrative Processing”: a Black Hole for Visa Applicants”

  1. […] are sold on DVD and posted on the web. / The State Department has a procedure known as Mantis security advisory opinions (SAOs), which is used to identify visa applicants suspected of seeking to enter the U.S. to access […]

  2. Disturbed Avatar

    Hi Gary!

    I am a U.S. citizen waiting on completion of my husband’s administrative processing. I filed a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for my husband in June 2012. It was approved February 2013, and the immigrant visa interview was in November 2013. In fact I was with him at the consular interview. Now it’s been almost 8 months since the interview, and I am under stress because we have been waiting to start our family and I want to do that in U.S. I had two miscarriages back home and I can’t take anymore risks because my doctor is in U.S. What should we do?

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      Dear Disturbed,

      As mentioned above, our firm typically first contacts the consular post, then if no timely response is received contact the Department’s Visa Office, and then consider (a) following up through the committee that provides liaison between the Department and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, (b) filing a Congressional inquiry, and/or (c) filing a mandamus action in federal court. Have you taken any of these steps, and with what result?

    2. Akin Sayon Avatar
      Akin Sayon

      Hi, I am Akin Sayon, and I have been waiting on AP for 13 months now. It’s frustrating and causing my wife and I tears and pain.

  3. Depressed Avatar

    Dear Gary,

    I am under AP for 16 months now for my L1-B intercompany transfer visa. Someone told me that if administrative processing takes one full year, an applicant can submit a new visa application to the consulate. Once I went to the interview again, of course the CO told me that I did not need to come in, but also told me that the papers were not sent to Washington for 9 months and were in the Consulate untouched, and that they only sent it in to Washington for review about 5 months ago! Is there anything that can be done? How is this acceptable? I could not complain to them as I am afraid that if I pursue this, the Consulate will deny me out of spite.

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      Depressed: Sorry to hear that your case was misplaced or overlooked by the consular officer. One strategy a lawyer might consider would be to try to get a supervisor to own up to the mistake and to ask that the Visa Office expedite the AP in light of the prior mistake.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    My husband’s case has been in AP since April 2013. I have a son who is 3 months old now. I have sent them countless e-mails, with the same reply to just wait. I am really frustrated now because this is creating a strain on my marriage.

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      Our firm typically first contacts the consular post, then if no timely response is received we contact the Department’s Visa Office, and then consider (a) following up through the committee that provides liaison between the Department and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, (b) filing a Congressional inquiry, and/or (c) filing a mandamus action in federal court.

  5. Crestfallen Avatar

    I wanted to visit US temporarily on B1/B2 for a conference. I work in a university. At the end of the interview, the officer said I will get my visa in 1-2 days. I have no idea to what happened, but the Consulate later decided to send my application to Administrative Processing. Per their request, I submitted all my publications, evidence of my wages, a letter from university, and other documents. The conference will be in 3 weeks, and I get the feeling that I will not get my visa. I am very disappointed.

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      I understand your disappointment. What likely happened is that, after the officer agreed to approve your visa, a supervisor reviewed your application and determined that an SAO is necessary. In this situation, SAOs are currently averaging about a month. I hope you get your visa in time. A word of advice to others is to apply as early as possible.

  6. student in trouble Avatar
    student in trouble

    I’m a doctoral student on F1 visa which needed to be renewed. After my interview they told me it’s approved but they need to do some processing on their end. The lady on the counter said it takes 1-4 weeks. I sent all the documents the very next day and now its been 2 weeks. I have year long experiments waiting for me and my papers that are the requirements for my degree and I’ve repeatedly stated that in my emails.

    I’ve contacted the embassy thrice to get the exact same reply, WAIT. They said it can’t be expedited or anything. I’m just losing days here.

  7. Hassaan Zahid Avatar
    Hassaan Zahid

    I am a recent graduate Doctor from Karachi. I applied for a B1/B2 visa back in April 2012 for a Research Conference. 28 months later still no reply from the consulate. I had retrieved my passport earlier this year for further international travel. The CEAC website still shows Administrative Processing and was last updated in January 2014. What should I do next ?

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      Speak with an immigration lawyer to decide among your options. A key factor will be whether you still have any need to travel to the U.S.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I applied for a B1/B2 visit visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. At the end of interview, the officer said I qualify for the visa but due to an identity clash with someone having the same name and date of birth I need to wait for AP to be cleared. It’s been 7 months, but I’ve still received no notice that the AP has been completed.

    1. Vi Avatar

      Here is the website you can check your status and see if they even “touched it”

      good luck

  9. yusuf wahid Avatar
    yusuf wahid


    My family of 5 applied for U.S. visas. I’m the father and I was told by the consular officer that my visa would be approved. But now it’s in administrative processing, even though my wife and children’s visas have already been issued. What happened?

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      Consular officers’ decisions as to whether to grant or deny visas are subject to supervisors’ review. It sounds like in your case the supervisor may have determined that administrative processing is warranted.

  10. Jay Avatar

    My visa category is u visa

  11. Rebecca Avatar

    My husband’s visa has been in administrative processing for five years. What can we do?


    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      Start by discussing the above-listed strategy options with an attorney.

  12. Frances Avatar

    I went for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, on July 2. The consular officer told me that my visa will be approved and ready for collection within 2 to 4 working days. But now may application is subject to administrative processing, which the Embassy says could take several weeks. The problem is that I live in the United Kingdom, not Nigeria. The delay could impact my business in the UK. Plus I’m separated from my wife and daughter, who are there. Can I withdraw my passport to enable me go back to the UK?

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      Yes, you can ask the Embassy to return your passport, then use it to fly back to the UK. If your visa application is later approved, you will receive a notice to submit your passport again to the Embassy for the visa to be added.

  13. Shafee Avatar

    Dear sir

    I am afghan citizen I passed my special immigration visa interview in 2013 this two years I have been waiting for my visa, but still it is under administrative process what should I do.

    Very respectfully

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      According to a Congressional Research Service Report, many Iraqi and Afghan special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants are subject to administrative processing (AP). Instructions for tracking your case during and after AP are posted by the Embassy here: http://kabul.usembassy.gov/iv.html.

      There’s been a lawsuit filed against the Obama administration for its foot-dragging in the SIV program, including the problem of prolonged AP:

      The lawsuit as amended and filed in Federal Court in Washington D.C., argues that the Obama Administration has ignored controlling legislation and flouted its own procedures and, in so doing, has failed to honor the nation’s promise to protect its allies through the congressionally-mandated Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs.

      The new Plaintiffs’ stories demonstrate how the SIV programs are broken at multiple stages in processing. Two of the new Afghan Plaintiffs have been waiting on their initial merits determination from Embassy Kabul’s Chief of Mission for over a year on average. The five other new Plaintiffs have been waiting in “administrative processing” for years longer than the congressionally-mandated nine months; Plaintiff Alice has been waiting over five years at this stage alone.


      You may want to contact the law firm or nonprofit organization working on the lawsuit to learn more about your options.

  14. Dominic Avatar

    I agree that “administrative processing” is like a black hole. I had an interview at the consular section at the American Embassy in Accra, Ghana. My father filed for me to join him in the States. After my interview, I was given a white paper and “administrative processing” was checked. I have now waited for almost two years since that interview with no news. It’s very frustrating.

  15. Alyssa Avatar

    Hello Mr. Chodorow,

    I paid an immigration lawyer to help with petitioning for my husband and submitted applications in June 2013. Afterwards I-130 approved June 2014. I checked with lawyer every and/or two to get any updates, but the lady at the lawyers office says “waiting for interview at consulate”. I called NVC myself and the man on phone tells me my husbands case is in the Process of Termination. And that NVC emailed lawyers office August 2014 with no replies from lawyer.

    I called the lady at the lawyers office and she tells me that she’s waiting for the Consulate in Juarez to give her an interview date for my husband. And the man at the NVC says that he reopened my husbands case, so to pay AOS and visa fees again then I can get an interview at Consulate in Juarez.

    Why am I getting two different stories?? It’s frustrating.

    Ps. I emailed the Juarez Consulate to check If my husbands case is really there…. Still waiting on reply.

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      The relationship with your lawyer needs to be based on trust. Ask to schedule a meeting with your lawyer to discuss your concerns in detail. If you go away from that meeting without trust that your lawyer is pursuing your best interests, it may be time to schedule an appointment with another lawyer to get a second opinion.

  16. Aliza Avatar

    Dear Gary,
    I applied for B1 visa for attending a meeting in US on september 09, after the interview the visa officer said to me that your application is approved, you would receive email from us. He gave me a blue color letter on which it was mentioned that your visa will be ready in five working days.
    However, it’s been about 6 weeks that my application is under “Administrative Processing” since the date of interview. The “status creation” and “status update” dates are the same (09 September).
    Should I wait for 60 days after interview or just wrote a query to them.
    What could be the possible reason for this.
    Additionally, previously I was issued a B1 visa (one year validity) which expires last year. And I travelled to US two times on that visa.

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      See my above email to Crestfallen.

  17. MNT Avatar

    I am waiting on my husbands H4 visa case pending for the past 8 months under 221g admin processing. Can one have the admin processing process continue and get the passport back from the US consulate in the meanwhile and resubmit it when visa decision has been made? If so, can you please tell me what is the procedure to contact the consulate about the same.

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      See my above reply to Frances.

  18. Jennifer Tran Avatar
    Jennifer Tran

    Hi Gary,
    I sponsored my mother, who is 71 years old, to immigrate to the States. After her interview at the end of May 2015, the consular officer in HoChiMinh City, Vietnam, gave her a paper requesting additional documents related to her Communist Party membership. With no interest in membership and realizing that membership may be an obstacle to getting the visa, my mother quit the party. On August 31, 2015, she submitted the paper work proving that she is no longer a member. It’s now mid-November, and I checked her visa status on ceac.state.gov. It is still showing “Administrative Processing”, last updated Sept. 15, 2015. The Consulate says we just need to wait. Should we contact the Consulate again? In your experience, do you know how long does it take for such case to be resolved? My Mom is old and lives by herself in Vietnam.

    Thank you for your guidance.

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      The length of time it takes for the Embassy to decide the case may depend on whether the case can be decided locally (quick: most often for cases where membership terminated more than 5 years ago), or it must be referred for a security advisory opinion in Washington (8-10 months: most often for cases where the applicant claims her membershp was “non-meaingful”), or the application is denied and your mother requires a waiver (even longer: where the 5-year termination, non-meaningful, and involuntary exceptions are inapplicable). To avoid unnecessary delay, you may want to speak with our firm or another qualified lawyer to see if the materials you submitted to the Embassy are sufficient to prove your case. If not further evidence may be helpful.

      For more about immigrant visa ineligibility due to communist party membership, see here.

  19. Confused Avatar


    Is it wise to retrieve passport while my visa application is undergoing administrative processing? Does it affect the outcome?

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      It does not affect the outcome.

  20. Ugur Avatar

    I am doctor, I had a B1 visa, I visited USA and my B1 visa is valid for 8 years from now, too. This time I applied for J1 visa for research fellowship in USA. First officer said that my visa was approved. Then I got e-mail, that is about I am under administrative process (AP) and in a few days they sent my passport without visa. One week later my status changed, embassy sent e-mail and they said AP completed. After that I sent my passport to the embassy for visa issue. One week later they called me and said my status changed and I am again under AP. The problem is my fellowship started on December 1st, I should be there. Two times AP for same visa application.

  21. Akam Avatar

    Hello Gary,

    I have applied for B1/B2 visa a few days back. The Consular officer took my passport and told me that my case will undergo administrative processing. She called this a temporary REFUSAL. Does it mean that my VISA has been REFUSED or is there any chance that I can grant visa approval?

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar


      If your case is undergoing administrative processing (AP), it means that the Consulate is investigating something about your case. A notice that a case is undergoing AP is a “temporary refusal” because the visa cannot be issued immediately. But the visa may be issued at the conclusion of the investigation. The fact that the officer took your passport is usually a good sign: it typically means that the officer thinks she’ll need your passport to add the visa soon.

  22. Renee s Avatar

    My husband went for his CR1 visa appointment in New Delhi, India, a year and a half ago. The officer returned his passport and told him to wait for AP. The wait is killing me.


  23. Anon Avatar

    I was offered a position with the United Nations and the UN sent a diplomatic cable to the US Embassy in London for a G-4 Visa. Even though such cases take 72 hours max, I have been placed on AP. The UN may not wait if the AP is going to take more than a month. What are my options?

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      Anon: As you know, G-4 visas are for international organization officers or employees (or immediate family). And AP could refer to a host of different types of investigation of your visa application. If you consult a competent immigration lawyer, the lawyer will study the facts of your case and may contact the Embassy for further information in order to determine–or at least make an educated guess–what type of investigation is taking place and what actions, if any, may help bring the investigation to a swift and satisfactory conclusion.

  24. Hajar Avatar

    I am an asylee from Afghanistan, I filed i730 for my husband in June/ 2015 and he had his interview in October 18/2015 but his case went to AP. its been 6 months but no response. I am in USA waiting wnd waiting……..

  25. Frustrated Avatar

    Hi Gary,
    I’m a US citizen, and my husband is from Ghana. He had his immigrant visa interview on December 2, 2014, at the US Embassy in Accra. We have been waiting for Adminstative Processing for almost two years. We have made inquiries in person and by email with little to no response. Our attorney has sent emails, and they have responded a couple of times and at some point stopped responding. I contacted my local Congressman’s office last year and explained our situation. They have been making inquiries on our behalf every 60 days now for a year, and the Embassy has been responsive, but nothing has changed. We are so frustrated. My question is what can we do now?

    Thank you!

    1. Gary Chodorow Avatar

      First, it’s important to try to develop a theory for what the State Department may be investigating. Based on that theory, it may be time to consider contacting the State Department’s Visa Office, following up through the committee that provides liaison between the Department and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and/or filing a mandamus action in federal court.

  26. […] For tips on dealing with delays due to security checks, see Administrative Processing: a Black Hole for Visa Applicants. […]