Gazing into the Crystal Ball–Part II: Future Changes in U.S. Visa Processing

Last year I wrote a post about possible future changes in U.S. visa processing. The State Department has now released more information about their plans, allowing a clearer glimpse at the future of visa processing.

A Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) has been created by the State Department with the goal of supporting “an Internet-based, full-service application service center” where nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants will be able to complete and submit applications, make payments, attach photos, and track their application status. Applicants will be able to scan and submit documents (e.g., bank statements and court records) electronically with their application forms. The CEAC could represent a major leap forward for a number of reasons. For example:

  • SAOs: Currently some applicants need to wait up to 12-14 weeks for a security advisory opinion (SAO). The State Department doesn’t begin this security check until after the interview, when the applicant has submitted required documents. Perhaps in the future the SAO process could begin before the interview–as soon as the documents are submitted.
  • Mail and Customs Delays: Currently immigrant visa and K-1 fiancee visa applicants need to collect civil documents in China (e.g., police letters, marriage and birth certificates), mail them to the National Visa Center (NVC) in the U.S., and then wait for the NVC to mail the documents back to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. Mail can literally take months to get to the Consulate because of delays by Chinese Customs. NVC has already begun experimenting with using scanned documents instead of mail. Expansion of these efforts could significantly reduce visa wait times.

Of course, as with any technology developments, the devil is in the details. Will the CEAC create a bright, shiny visa future, or a bug-filled software nightmare?

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