A State Department official has spoken on background to the Associated Press, saying that more Chinese applying for F-1 visas as graduate students in fields related to science and technology will need “special clearance from multiple U.S. agencies” and that such clearances are “expected to take months for each visa application.” Other nonimmigrant visa applicants seeking to visit or work in the U.S. who have backgrounds in science or technology may be subject to the same security checks.
This statement appears to mean that such applicants will be subject to what the State Department refers to as the “visas mantis” security advisory opinion process, or more generically as “administrative processing.” This inter-agency security check is meant to weed out visa applicants who may in the U.S. have access to sensitive technology with potential military applications and may seek to unlawfully export that technology. The scope of who is subject to that security check–for example, people in which fields of graduate study or work must be checked–is not public information.
The State Department official further explained that persons subject to such security checks will be issued limited validity visas. While currently Chinese students may be issued visas valid for multiple entries to the U.S. over 5 years, and visitors may be issued 10-year visas, persons subject to the security check will likely be issued visas valid for just one year. If the prior application was subject to a security check, an applicant for is more likely to require an interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy under the interview waiver rules.
As the Associated Press points out, these changes were foreshadowed in Trump’s national security strategy issued in December. That document said the U.S. would review and tighten visa procedures “to reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors.” It specifically mentioned possible restrictions on visas for foreign students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
At a June 6 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, FBI Assistant Director E.W. Priestap explained some of the specific ways that sensitive information is illegally accessed on university campuses:
Some visitors exploit the liberal exchange of information on U.S. campuses – they steal unpublished data, laboratory designs, grant proposals, experiment processes, research samples, blueprints, and state-of-the-art software and hardware. They also exploit the open access to people and facilities on U.S. campuses – they talent-spot, collect insights, conduct training, and even recruit on behalf of foreign intelligence services.
The new policy goes into effect on June 11.
To prepare for this change, visa applicants applying for graduate visas in science or technology and other visa applicants with a background in these fields should have available at their consular appointments a detailed resume, copies of their technical publications, a detailed trip itinerary/description of the purpose of travel (for visitors), and a detailed work or research plan (for graduate students and work visa applicants). In a minority of cases, it also may be helpful to provide a letter from the export control specialist at the U.S. company where the applicant will visit or work confirming that the applicant will not access export-controlled technologies.
At the interview, the officer may ask the applicant related questions. And then after the interview the applicant must wait for the security check to be completed. It is concerning that the check may take “months,” according to the State Department official. Once issued, the visa will including an annotation stating, “clearance received.”
For tips on dealing with delays due to security checks, see Administrative Processing: a Black Hole for Visa Applicants.
Our law firm helps companies and individuals with planning for how to minimize disruptions due to visa-related security checks. Feel free to schedule a consultation.