Delays in the issuance of non-immigrant visas at U.S. consulates abroad are becoming increasingly frequent and longer in duration for some of our foreign national employees. While there is not a lot that can be done to overcome these lengthy delays, we would like you to understand what a security clearance means and when to expect them.
At the consular level, a foreign national can be subject to various types of security clearances. The four most common security clearances encountered by those requesting a non-immigrant visa to enter the U.S. are:
It is important to note that you will not know what type of security check you are undergoing, as the consular officers routinely refer to security clearance delays as ‘administrative processing.’
A visas Condor clearance is a security check based on country of birth, citizenship, or permanent residency in a country that is known as a state sponsor of terrorism. The specific triggers for this clearance are classified, but it is likely to affect those born in or residents of one of 26 countries with possible connections to activities affecting the security interests of the United States. While this security clearance typically targets males, there is has recently been an increase in the number of women subject to this clearance as well. The Department of State reports a two to three day processing time on this type of clearance, however many foreign nationals are experiencing delays of three to six weeks.
A foreign national subject to the visas Mantis security clearance works in an area that appears on the Critical Fields List of the Department of State’s Technology Alert List. The list focuses on fields that have “dual-use” applications. Dual-use applications are areas of seemingly benign technologies that may have potential military/terrorist applications. The technology alert list is a very comprehensive list that includes almost every skill involving chemistry, immunology, biomedical sciences, architecture, engineering, and urban design. Because of the list of technologies involved, it is very common for professors and researchers to be subject to this clearance. Foreign nationals of China, India, Russia, Pakistan and other Islamic countries seem to be heavily targeted for this security clearance. The Department of State reports that this clearance can take six to eight weeks.
A visas Donkey clearance is based on a name match for non-criminal issues, generally because someone has a common name. Likewise, a NCIC clearance is based on a name match but is because of potential criminal issues. The name match would appear because the consular office is concerned that the name of the non-immigrant visa applicant has matched a name on a terrorism watch list, foreign arrests and warrants database, and/or the U.S. arrests and warrants database. Some of the name match issues can be cleared up within a few hours, others may take several months to process.
Once a consular officer has determined that you may be ineligible to enter the U.S. because of security related concern, the consular officer requests a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) from the Department of State (DOS). The DOS then coordinates with numerous agencies, including but not limited to the FBI, CIA, Interpol, and Department of Homeland Security, to clear you for visa issuance. Not until all agencies have responded to the Department of State with positive opinions can the DOS instruct the consulate to issue the visa.
Once you have been told that your visa application will be subject to administrative processing, there is little that can be done to expedite the process. For employees likely to be subject to a visas Mantis clearance, a well-prepared letter from the employing department may help. The letter should discuss the research you are involved in within the context of the public benefit the research is providing.
If you have been waiting more than 30 days for a decision on your visa application, please notify the ISSS office. It is important for us to track those out of the country for extended lengths of time. We may be able to inquire about the status of the pending security clearance through one of our professional organizations or through the local U.S. Senator’s office.