The Department of State (“DOS”) provided an update in regards to the technological issues it is experiencing with its Consular Consolidated Database. The Bureau of Consular Affairs is continuing to work to remedy this issue. As of June 22nd, 22 consulates have been reconnected. This represents about half of the non-immigrant visa volume. The DOS will continue to reconnect Consulates as this technical problem is resolved. However, biometric data is still not available. The DOS is issuing visas for urgent and humanitarian travel. The DOS has not provided any further update in regards to when it expects the database to be fully operational again. At this time, we are suggesting that individuals delay making travel plans until these technical issues are solved.
On June 12, 2015, the Department of State announced that it is experiencing technical problems with its Consular Consolidated Database (“CCD”). These difficulties are not related to the issues that were experienced last year with the CCD. The technical glitch is not specific to any country, visa category or citizenship document. The Department of State has reported that a hardware failure occurred on June 9th that stopped biometric clearance requests from moving from the Consulates to the CCD. In addition, the system that is used to perform national security checks is experiencing technical difficulties. Consequently, the Department of State is not able to print visas and other travel documents. Due to these delays, a backlog in visas has developed, which will cause further delays even once this system is fully operating again. The Department of State has not provided information about when these technical issues will be resolved. It has stated that it will attempt to assist non-immigrant visa applicants who have urgent humanitarian travel needs to obtain a visa. However, the Hammond Law Group suggests that individuals delay making travel plans until these technical issues are resolved.
Recently, applicants who hoped to obtain a visa stamping appointment at a U.S. Consulate in Canada were unable to schedule appointments after February 13, 2015. The Department of State reported that this was due to the fact that the U.S. Consulates in Canada were upgrading their visa appointment system. The updates were complete on February 1, 2015. While the transition to this new system was occurring, appointments were frozen between February 13, 2015 and April 1, 2015. Now that the upgrade is complete, the U.S. Consulates in Canada are making more appointments available. The release of these appointments is expected to continue through the coming weeks. If you are interested in attending a visa stamping appointment in Canada, we suggest that you frequently check visa appointment availability to review available appointment dates and times.
On October 31, 2014, the Embassy of the United States in Kingston, Jamaica issued a notification that placed extensive restrictions on third country nationals who hoped to attend an appointment in Kingston to receive a visa stamp. This notification can be found here. Specifically, the following individuals who do not hold long-term status in Jamaica may not apply for a visa stamp at the Consulate in Kingston:
- Applicants who changed status with Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. and who are seeking a new visa in the new visa category.
- Applicants who entered the U.S. in one visa category and are seeking to re-enter the U.S. in a different visa category.
- Applicants who have been out of status in the U.S. having violated the terms of their visas or having overstayed the validity indicated on their I-94s.
- Applicants who obtained their current visa in a country other than that of their legal residence.
- Petition-based first time applicants.
- Third country nationals who are not resident in Jamaica and who are applying for a B1/B2 visa (including B1/B2 renewals).
As can be seen, this list applies to a wide range of applicants. Due to these restrictions, the Hammond Law Group recommends that visa stamping applicants who are third country nationals avoid the U.S. Embassy in Kingston. If you are a third country national and believe that your visa stamping request in Kingston does not involve one of the categories outlined above, we suggest that you contact the Hammond Law Group to discuss whether attending a visa stamping appointment in Kingston is a feasible option.
The Department of State (“DOS”) has announced that it has made substantial progress in resolving the performance issues with the Consular Consolidated Database. This database crashed in late July, which caused the DOS to be unable to issue visas to applicants. Since this problem affected Consulates throughout the world, the DOS was experiencing a significant backlog. It appears that the Consular Consolidated Database is operational again. The DOS has issued visas to applicants who were part of the backlog throughout the world. Furthermore, the DOS stated that it is printing visas for all cases with very little delay. At this time, individuals who were delaying making travel plans due to concerns about whether a visa would be issued in a timely manner can begin to arrange for trips abroad.
The Department of State (“DOS”) has released additional information that discusses what caused the Consular Consolidated Database to crash and its impact at Consulates throughout the world. Since July 20th, the Consulates have printed nearly 250,000 nonimmigrant visas. Normally, the DOS would expect to issue about 480,000 nonimmigrant visas during this period of time. This means that the Consulates have only been able to print visas for about half of the expected applicants. Unfortunately, the DOS believes that it will take weeks before its Consulates are able to return to normal processing times for issuing visas. The DOS provided some further information, including:
- The Consular Consolidated Database, including backup systems, crashed as a result of a software upgrade issue.
- The DOS is prioritizing immigrant visas, adoption cases, and emergency nonimmigrant visas.
- There is no expected time frame when the DOS expects this problem to be resolved.
The Hammond Law Group urges individuals who have not made specific travel plans and who will require a new visas stamp in their passport to return to the U.S. to hold off on traveling until this problem is resolved.
During the busy summer travel season, the Department of State’s Consular Consolidated Database has crashed. This database is responsible for supporting the Department of State’s efforts to verify information in passports and visa requests. The Department of State has reported that unspecified glitches in the database have resulted in “significant performance issues, including outages in the processing of applications for passports, visas, and reports of Americans born abroad.” The problem exists throughout the world and in all categories of applications. The issues caused by this glitch have resulted in a backlog of applications. One report stated that an unspecified country had close to 50,000 applicants who were experiencing delays. While the Department of State is working to rectify this problem, the Hammond Law Group suggests that individuals who have not made travel plans avoid going abroad for visa stamping interviews until this backlog has eased.
The Department of State has informed the American Immigration Lawyers Association that due to increasingly heavy demand by Canada-based visa applicants, the seven U.S. visa processing posts in Canada are extremely limited in their ability to accept Third Country National (TCN) cases during the peak demand months of June, July, and August. Visa processing those individuals will be suspended during this time.
A Third Country National is a non-Canadian citizen who is not currently a resident of Canada and wants to obtain a visa to the US from a US consulate in Canada. This often involves foreign nationals living in the US who do not want to return to their home countries for visa stamping and instead want to go to Canada to update the visa stamps in their passports.
The Department of State is encouraging such applicants to seek appointments elsewhere in the world, such as in the applicant’s home country. Emergency cases may seek consideration for scheduling an interview at a Canada post by visiting canada.usembassy.gov.
Cases already scheduled for appointments will be completed as scheduled.
With the announcement two weeks ago of the availabilty for certain H and L holders to have their visas re-stamped without an interview, many of us are hopeful that there has been a shift by the U.S. Consulates in India regarding the treatment of professionals working in the U.S. The last several years have seen a tremendous and unquestioned abuse of power by the US Consulates in India (and to a lesser extent in Manila) in the handling of H and L visa applicants. The U.S. Consulates have shown a propensity to re-adjudicate petitions and substitute their judgement for those of USCIS officials without any statutory or regulatory basis. Unfortunately, their interpretation of USCIS and DOL regulations, of which they have never been trained, left a lot to be desired. Whether their backlash against H and L holders was simply a reaction to the recession and high rate of unemployment or whether it was the result of a directive from the current Administration is open to conjecture. Nonetheless, 221g notices became the bane of visa applicants and U.S. employers. Often these requests called for documentation and information that was wholly irrelevant and to many, simply designed to harass and discourage visa applicants. Among the requests that we often saw, sought records of all of the employees of a U.S. company including personal information, job titles, job descriptions, salaries, etc. Even when a U.S. employer was able to provide the information requested, the U.S. Consulates often took 6 months or more to review the additional information. A visa delayed is a visa denied. We recognize that the U.S. Consulates have a tough job but, in this blogger’s humble opinion, their job would be much easier if they focused on doing their job and stopped trying to do the job of the DOL and USCIS. Let’s hope this new policy is but the first step in a return to the fair and legal treatment of H and L visa applicants in India.
The United States Embassy in India has announced that it is implementing a new visa processing system throughout India that will further standardize procedures and will simplify fee payment and appointment scheduling through a new website at www.ustraveldocs.com/in.
Beginning September 26, 2012, U.S. visa applicants will be able to pay application fees via Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) or with their mobile phones. They can also pay in cash at more than 1,800 Axis bank branches.
For the first time, applicants will be able to schedule their appointments online or by phone. The new system will also allow companies and travel agents to purchase multiple fee receipts for group travel, and it accommodates the scheduling of group
and emergency appointments.
Visa applicants will be able to have their questions answered via telephone, email, or online chat. Call center agents in Noida and Hyderabad will answer questions in Hindi, English, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, and Telugu. Call centers will be open 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, and 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on Sunday. The numbers are (91-120) 660-2222 or (91-22) 6720-9400 in India or 1-310-616-5424 in the United States. Applicants will also be able to email in English or Hindi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Second Appointment Required
One important change is that under the new system, applicants will have to make two appointments. Prior to their visa interviews, applicants will have to visit an Offsite Facilitation Center (OFC) to submit their fingerprints and a photo. Located apart from the Embassy and Consulates in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai, the OFCs will reduce congestion at U.S. consular facilities and speed applicant processing. Most applicants will need to visit an OFC only once.
This changes on the heels of the introduction in March of the Interview Waiver Program (IWP), which allows applicants who meet certain criteria to be considered for waivers of personal interviews. The US Embassy indicates that with the addition of the new processing system to the IWP program, an increasing number of applicants will be able to complete all visa requirements without having to visit a U.S. Embassy or Consulate at all.