By Kristina Karpinski
Last month CLINIC held its annual visit to the National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. During the visit, NVC Director Kimberly Kelly and staff gave participants a tour of the facility and held an informative question and answer session. Summarized below is information obtained during the visit.
Electronic Processing Program
NVC continues to increase its use of electronic procedures to communicate with visa applicants and to process immigrant visa forms and documentation. Processing under the Electronic Processing Program requires immigrant visa applicants to download the necessary forms (DS-230, Part I and Part II, and the I-864), and to complete, scan, and email them to the NVC. The required civil documents and supporting documents also must be converted to PDF and emailed to NVC. The number of U.S. embassies and consulates requiring electronic processing has risen and now includes: Amman Jordan; Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Damascus, Syria; Kabul, Afghanistan; Sana'a, Yemen and those processing through Ciudad Juarez, Mexico as immediate relative or conditional resident spouses and children (i.e., in the IR-1, IR-2, CR-1 and CR-2 categories). Electronic processing is still optional in Guangzhou, China and Montreal, Canada. More consulates will require electronic processing in the future. NVC reports that scanning and emailing the forms and documents decreases the processing time at the NVC from the average 6-8 months to about 3 months.
Form DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa Application and Registration
Some consular posts also require the online completion and submission of the immigrant visa form, the DS-260. The form is submitted online to the Department of State (DOS) through the Consular Electronic Applications Center (CEAC) and the information can be accessed by the National Visa Center and all embassies and consulates. The number of posts requiring the DS-260 has also risen and includes: Amman Jordan; Athens, Greece; Baghdad, Iraq; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Damascus, Syria; Kabul, Afghanistan; Lima, Peru; Mexico City, Mexico and Montreal, Canada. DOS is expanding use of the CEAC and applicants will eventually be able to upload the necessary documents to the site for review by NVC. Additionally, immigrant visa applicants already interviewed are now able to check the status of their applications online through the site. Using the case number, the applicant is able to check if a visa has been issued or refused and get additional processing information.
NVC has seen an increase in online payment of the immigrant visa and affidavit of support fees since the program started in 2008. About 75 percent of all fees are now paid online through CEAC's Immigrant Visa Invoice Payment Center and 25 percent by cashier's check or money order to the P.O. Box in St. Louis, Missouri. Online payment has also led to the decrease in total processing time at NVC. It is important to remember that if a period of one year passes without communication with the NVC, the immigrant visa and affidavit of support fees will have to be paid again to continue processing. The case also may go into the termination process. The online payment system is not set up to allow multiple payments so if the applicant must repay fees it must be done by cashier's check or money order to the P.O. Box address.
Correspondence with NVC
Many applicants, petitioners and representatives are now corresponding with the NVC through e-mail. NVC suggests including an email address on the bottom of the front page of the form originally submitted to USCIS. When a petition such as an I-130 is approved by CIS and sent to NVC, the form will be checked and NVC will send correspondence to the e-mail address provided. Applicants, petitioners and representatives can also notify NVC of their desire to receive correspondence via e-mail at any time in the process.
NVC reports that its automated phone service is currently not available so all callers speak to a live operator. Live assistance is available from 7:00 a.m. to midnight eastern time.
Fraud Prevention Unit
NVC's Fraud Prevention Unit provides pre-screening of some cases before they are sent to a consulate or embassy for an interview. All I-129F fiancé(e) cases, all I-140 employment-based cases and many marriage-based I-130 cases are reviewed by this unit. NVC does not make any determinations on these cases but conducts additional research in government databases and supplies additional information to the interviewing posts. The Fraud Prevention Unit is also responsible for processing petitions that are returned from posts for possible revocation. Approximately 60,000 petitions a year are sent back to USCIS from NVC. About half of the cases are those returned from posts around the world and the other half are administrative returns from NVC. Petitions may be sent back from a post because the petitioner is deceased or has withdrawn the petition, the applicant was found ineligible for the visa or there was a finding of fraud. These returned petitions only stay at the NVC for about 10 days before they are sent on to the USCIS office that made the initial decision on the case. If a visa applicant has been told by the consulate that a petition is being sent back to USCIS for revocation, but the post fails to send the petition back for several months, applicants can contact NVC and request assistance to get the post to send the petition back to NVC.
Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers
NVC is working closely with USCIS in anticipation of the final rule implementing the provisional unlawful presence waivers for immediate relatives. One of the requirements under the proposed rule is that an applicant must be actively pursuing the immigrant visa process and have paid the immigrant visa processing fee. Additionally, if an applicant has already been scheduled for an immigrant visa interview at an embassy or consulate, he or she will not be eligible for a provisional waiver. NVC and USCIS are currently working out the details on coordinating the process between the two agencies. A procedure will be in place to keep an immigrant visa case on hold pending adjudication by USCIS of the provisional waiver. When the provisional waiver process does go into effect, applicants will need to notify NVC that they will be filing a waiver. More details will become available on this process in the coming months.