24 May 2023

United States

State Department Announces New Initiative to Reduce Administrative Processing of Visa Applications at United States Consulates

The State Department has announced that it has adopted “new technology” and “enhanced coordination” in an effort to reduce the need for administrative processing of visa applications filed at its consulates.  Administrative processing is the generic term used to refer to an investigation of a visa applicant’s background that occurs when a consular officer determines that additional information is needed to establish an applicant’s visa eligibility.  Issues that may trigger administrative processing include the applicant’s travel history, citizenship or nationality, membership in certain organizations, and/or criminal history.  The applicant’s field of study or research can also trigger administrative processing, especially if this involves technology that has a potential military application. Administrative processing sometimes requires the consulate to contact certain federal agencies in the United States to obtain a security clearance.

Applicants whose applications are subject to administrative processing are often provided with a notice that cites Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act but provides no further detail. Some applicants are specifically asked to provide detailed information about their educational background and proposed activities in the United States.  The State Department estimates that most applications subject to administrative processing are adjudicated within 60 days, but a small number of applications subject to administrative processing may take significantly longer to be completed.

The State Department has not provided details about the new technology or enhanced coordination that it will use to reduce the number of visa applications that require administrative processing.  The State Department also notes that it continues to coordinate with federal government partners through the National Vetting Center, which has apparently “dramatically” reduced the number of visa applications subject to administrative processing.  The National Vetting Center is an entity designed to streamline the collection of information about individuals who may pose a threat to the United States.  The State Department claims that, since October 2022, most cases that would have previously required additional administrative processing were resolved immediately without the need for administrative processing.

Although the State Department’s announcement and apparent commitment to reduce the use of administrative processing for visa applications are certainly welcome, all persons planning to apply for visas at U.S. consulates should be mindful that many applications continue to be referred for administrative processing.  In particular, visa applications filed by Chinese nationals working in technological fields continue to be subject to a high risk of administrative processing.  All visa applicants are thus encouraged to make contingency plans in case their applications are referred to administrative processing and their ability to enter the United States is delayed as a result.

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