Last November, United States Consulates initiated a policy of accessing nonimmigrant (H-1B, L-1, etc.) visa petitions through a new computerized report called the Petition Information Management Service (PIMS). The electronic PIMS record became the primary evidence required by Consulates to confirm petition approval and thereby authorize visa issuance. As the system had incomplete data, visa applicants often faced visa issuance delays ranging from a few hours to several days. While the number of delays caused by PIMS verifications has seemingly been reduced, issues remain.
What You Need to Know
Travelers seeking to reenter the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa (e.g., H-1B, L-1, O-1, P-1, etc.) need to be aware that same-day visa issuance might not be possible, even at posts where same-day issuance has long been the standard procedure. In fact, it might be several days after one’s visa appointment before a visa is issued. Visa applicants are basically dependent on the accuracy and completeness of information recorded in PIMS by government officials. As always, beneficiaries of approved nonimmigrant petitions must plan well in advance for any international travel, particularly if he/she will need to apply for a visa before reentering the United States.
Review of the Petition and Visa Process
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must process an employer’s Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and issue an approval notice on Form I-797 (the “Notice of Action” form) before a foreign national may apply to a U.S. Consulate for issuance of a nonimmigrant visa (NIV) in an H, L, O, P or Q classification. Previously, consulates issued visas based on original I-797 approval notices presented by visa applicants and/or scanned copies of the I-797 sent by the Department of State (DOS) from its Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) to consular posts (which are also operated by the Department of State).
Under the new process, USCIS forwards all approved NIV petitions to the KCC for entry into the Consolidated Consular Database (CCD). KCC scans in relevant information, including the Form I-129, employer support letter and the beneficiary’s identification documents into PIMS. The Consular officer must confirm petition approval in PIMS before the visa can be issued. The PIMS system is believed to be a primary tool to prevent visa fraud, as each petition is linked to a base petitioner record allowing enhanced tracking of the NIV petitioner and petition information. It is believed that there will be additional changes to visa processing in the near future, including requiring on-line completion of a new visa application form that is designed to further enhance visa fraud detection.
Why Have Visa Processing Delays Occurred?
Of course, a computer database system such as PIMS is only as good as the information entered into it. USCIS has not been transmitting information regarding approvals of amendment, change of status and extension of status petitions (all such cases relate to beneficiaries who are already inside the U.S.) to the KCC. Furthermore, not all new petition approvals (most commonly filed on behalf of persons outside the U.S.) are being sent to the KCC. Without the petition approval information being entered into PIMS at the KCC, consular posts cannot confirm petition approval through PIMS and therefore will not issue a visa. Following the implementation of the PIMS requirement in November 2007, it often took days for PIMS records to be updated or petition approvals to be confirmed via email by the KCC and visas to finally be issued. Even at consular posts where same-day visa issuance had been the norm for many years, delays were occurring.
There seemingly has been a gradual reduction in PIMS-related visa delays over the past few months. On March 21, 2008, USCIS and DOS reached an agreement regarding amendment, extension of stay and change of status petitions that will hopefully reduce delays even more – where a petitioner/employer files a duplicate I-129 petition copy, USCIS will send the duplicate copy to the KCC for scanning and entry into the PIMS database. (Ogletree Deakins had already been filing duplicate petitions on behalf of several clients and has adopted this across the board as a standard operating procedure after the March 21 announcement.)
Visa Processing Reminders and Tips
Although PIMS-related delays should continue to diminish in number over the coming months, NIV travelers need to be prepared for the possibility of visa processing delays. Virtually all visa applications require an advance appointment with the Consulate. At some posts (e.g., Sao Paolo, Brazil), visa appointments must be made several months in advance. While some posts may still be able to issue the visa on the same day as the visa appointment, PIMS delays and other potential issues might result in visa issuance taking several days. Whenever possible, NIV travelers should build in some flexibility in the event such delays occur.
State Department Links
General visa information:
Information on processes at specific consular locations:
Visit www.visatrax.com for visa processing and other immigration updates. For more specific assistance with this or other immigration issues, please contact any attorney in our Immigration Practice Group or contact our Client Services Department via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 866-287-2576.