Top Ten Visa Wait Times at U.S. Consular Posts, September 2007**
September's Top Ten contains two first-time members. Caracas has dropped to 5th place, but only due to dramatic increases in wait times in Quito and Port au Prince. The big news is Brazil, which became the first country with three U.S. consular posts to make it into this dubious Top Ten.
New Visa Guidance
O-1 Visa Applicants: No Second Guessing
In a new addition to 9 FAM 41.55, Consular Officers are urged not to second-guess CIS approvals of O-1 petitions:
Except as indicated in 9 FAM 41.55 N8.4 below, you should not ask applicants who are beneficiaries of petitions for O-1 classification that have been approved by DHS for additional proof that they are entitled to O-1 classification. Disagreement with DHS interpretation of the law or the facts is not a sufficient reason to ask DHS to reconsider its approval of the petition.
TNs for Mexicans: No Petition
The procedural notes to 9 FAM 41.59 have been amended to reflect the fact that there is no longer a petition requirement for Mexican nationals who are applying for Treaty National (TN) nonimmigrant status.
K Visa Validity
The procedural notes to 9 FAM 41.81 have been updated to clarify the validity period of K visas:
K-1 and K-2 visas shall be valid for six months for one entry.
K-3 and K-4 visas shall be valid for multiple entries for 24 months, unless constrained by security clearance requirement or waivers, which are valid for a year or less.
Unmarried aliens entering the United States as a K-4 shall be admitted for a period of 24 months or until that alien's 21st birthday, whichever is shorter.
Rumble in the GAO-ngle
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported that the State Department has not yet developed a strategic plan for meeting the projected increases in visa demand. The State Department strongly objected to many of the GAO's findings. The sparring between GAO and State was a "Rumble in the Jungle" for us visa nerds, with State coming out swinging with words such as "misleading", "simplistic" and "inappropriate," and the GAO standing its ground playing Rope-a-dope:
GAO: Long wait times may discourage legitimate travel to the United States, potentially costing the country billion of dollars in economic benefits.
State: It is misleading to say that visa wait times are "potentially costing the country billions of dollars in economic benefits." There is no meaningful way to correlate visa wait times with travel or tourism revenues for the United States.
GAO: We agree that it is difficult to correlate visa wait times with specific dollar value losses in travel and tourism revenues. But State has already publicly acknowledged that visa applicants may be deterred from visiting the United States by long appointment wait times and that this could have negative economic consequences and could adversely affect foreign opinions of our country.
GAO: Despite recent improvements, at times during the past year a number of posts reported long wait times.
State: This is accurate, but inadequate explanation is offered by GAO regarding the cyclical phenomena that cause longer wait times during summer months. The GAO simplistically equates this transient, recurring phenomenon with a more fundamental issue regarding resources needed to meet overall visa demand now and in the future….State believes it is misleading to equate this cyclical problem and the modalities for addressing it with the underlying question of chronic backlogs.
GAO: Long waits for visa interviews have been a long-standing problem for the department. Furthermore, State's data show that there have been long waits at some posts during peak and nonpeak periods and that long waits are not solely cyclical in nature. State has not developed to address either cyclical or chronic visa waits.
GAO: Some posts have utilized procedures that permit them to process applications more efficiently. However, these procedures are not shared among posts in any systematic way, and, therefore, not all posts are aware of them.
State: Post specific procedures are less shareable than management principles, given the differences in physical configuration, host country conditions, and other resource factors among posts.
GAO: We understand that all practices may not be transferable to all posts, but we believe that all posts would benefit from knowing the options that are available for more efficient operations.
GAO: To improve the Bureau of Consular Affairs' oversight and management of visa-adjudicating posts, we recommend that the Secretary of State develop a strategy to address worldwide increases in visa demand that balances the security responsibility of protecting the United States from potential terrorists and individuals who would harm U.S. interests with the need to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States.
State: We have to challenge the selection of the word "balances." State's border security responsibilities as a matter of public policy and law do not lend themselves to a "balancing" process, with facilitation of legitimate travel on one side of the scale and security on the other. State questions the appropriateness of any suggestion that meeting visa demand be approached in this way.
GAO: We are not suggesting that State sacrifice security in order to avoid visa waits, but rather that State develop a plan for how it will cope with rising demand.
GAO: In order to develop a strategy addressing future visa demand, State may want to make use of operations research methods and optimization modeling techniques.
State: It would be inappropriate to reduce visa processing to an analog of a "call center operation" or "cars crossing a bridge" as the GAO suggests. It would be highly inappropriate if consular interviews were considered only a variable in "transaction time." The border security function must be supported and not diminished by changes aimed at reducing visa processing times.
GAO: We suggest that State take advantage of available analytical tools in order to identify options for the development of an overall strategy that will address the projected increase in visa demand worldwide. State does not have a plan that outlines how it will cope with growing visa demand. The short-term, temporary measures that State is currently taking to address visa demand are not adequate to handle the projected visa demand.
(Some of the above dialogue is edited; the full report (GAO-07-847) can be found here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07847.pdf)
Consular Management At Its Best
The secret to engendering public support for new visa procedures: let them know what you're doing, and why you're doing it. Tel-Aviv's announcement of its new visit procedures exemplifies this kind of successful public management of the visa process.
Your Visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tel AvivThe Hardships of Foreign Service
The Department of State is refreshingly upfront about the hardships faced by Consular Officers abroad. For example, according to the Department a candidate for the Foreign Service must be willing or able to do the following:
At the Consulates
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul recently commenced limited nonimmigrant visa services for the first time since 1979. Vice Consul Jessica Simon took part in the consular section's first NIV interviews held in 28 years. Among the initial applicants: a group of eight provincial and tribal representatives seeking to participate in a special International Visitor Program.
The U.S.-China Competitiveness Agenda of 2007, recently introduced in Congress, authorizes the construction of a new consulate in Wuhan (population eight million). The U.S. now has one embassy (which is currently under construction to improve consular facilities), and four consulates in China.
The U.S. consulate in Kolkata has become home to the newest American School to open in India. American Schools already exist in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai.
While it may seem to our clients that an interviewing visa officer may have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, the truth is that consuls, like immigration lawyers, sometimes have bad commute days. For example, pity the consular officers in Kazakhstan:
Roads in Kazakhstan are in poor repair, especially in rural areas. Street lighting, especially on side streets, may be turned off at night. Drivers often ignore lane markings. Potholes are common, and are often dangerously deep. Pedestrians frequently dart out in front of cars. Visitors should drive defensively at all times as many local drivers do not follow traffic laws. Special caution should particularly be taken if driving at night. Road rage can be a problem, especially in and around Almaty, and a non-confrontational response to such behavior is strongly recommended. Accidents involving severe injury and/or death are common. Traffic police have reportedly stopped cars to extort bribes on main city streets and at periodic checkpoints on major highways.http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1150.html
Caracas Practice Tips
Visas Mantis: According to the Reciprocity Table, the State Department "strongly recommends" to its Consular Officers that a Visas Mantis be requested for Venezuelan applicants with a background or purpose of trip that is listed in the Technology Alert List (TAL).
L-1 Visa Processing: Caracas requires documentation in L-1 cases which is normally not requested at other U.S consulates; these requirements include:
Passports: Blue Venezuelan passports are no longer acceptable for purposes of applying for a U.S. visa.
Quote of the Corner:
"Americans seem to be very huggable people."
Andrew Cook, after renovating the 1775 Birchwood Inn in Temple, N.H., hiring six local employees and then being denied an E-2 visa extension in London. Cook was later issued the E-2 visa visa, after local townspeople rallied to Cook's side. http://www.wmur.com/news/13691279/detail.html
All rights reserved to the author.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.