By Susan Schreiber
CLINIC held its annual two-day family-based immigration law conference in El Paso, Texas on November 12-13, 2014. In the afternoon of the second day, representatives from the consulate and USCIS spoke and answered participants’ questions. On an optional third day, participants toured the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez. The following is a summary of updated information from the conference and the tour.
The Consulate and How to Contact Officers
Legal inquiries should be made on the special inquiry form located at ciudadjuarez.usconsulate.gov/feedback-form.html. Fill out the form completely, include the IV case number (CDJ or MEP), use only the form to correspond, and do not include any attachments unless requested.
The USCIS Office
Mexico is in the Latin American and Caribbean District of the USCIS. It has seven offices within that region. It processes or investigates the following forms I-130, I-360, I-407, I-601 and I-212, I-730, and U/T visas (fingerprints only). The office has an information window at the consulate. To contact the office, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information provided during the Q and A
Applicants may make any relevant claim related to why they are not inadmissible. This includes persons potentially inadmissible for making a false claim of citizenship when they were minors.
The consulate makes no assumption that family members traveling together and entering the United States illegally are smuggling each other. Officers try to determine the underlying facts before making a determination of 212(a)(6)(B) inadmissibility. Tattoos are revealed almost entirely through the medical exam. Panel physicians are required to note any marks on applicant’s body, including tattoos. The officer will make no assumption that an applicant is a member of a gang just due to wearing a tattoo. The consulate follows an internal process: the information becomes available through the medical exam, the officer will ask the applicant questions regarding the tattoos, if officer believes further investigation is necessary, will refer t to fraud-prevention unit, which usually involves conducting another interview while applicant.
In order to take advantage of the CSPA’s opt-out provision, the applicant need only write a simple letter. The second preference F-2B category is currently more favorable than the first preference for all nationalities except the Philippines. So when the applicant’s petitioner naturalizes, the beneficiary will need to opt out of that automatic conversion. This opt-out benefit is also available to the unmarried children under 21 in the F-2A category who have derivative children. They will automatically convert to the immediate relative category when their petitioner naturalizes unless they opt out. They might want to opt out so that they can immigrate in the F-2A category with their derivative child.
If the principal beneficiary has received an immigrant visa at the consulate, has entered the United States as an LPR, and the derivative children or spouse want to immigrate, they should just contact the consulate’s Call Center and ask to schedule an interview. The consulate will allow them to pay the immigrant visa fee and access the forms. They do not need to go through the National Visa Center.
Similarly, contact CDJ’s Call Center or send an email to re-activate a case that is still pending. The consulate will re-schedule an interview using its local rescheduling system (SWIT) In some cases, the applicant may not need to return for a second interview, but that would only be if the applicant’s first interview was within one year. If it has been one year, the applicant would need to return to at least take an oath.
The consulate runs a report every day to determine which cases should be terminated for under section 203(g) due to failure to attend an interview or take action within one year. The data base indicates when it has been longer than 12 months from the last communication.
During FY 2014, 95 percent of applicants who had received provisional approval of their I-601A waiver were granted an immigrant visa. Only about 400 cases out of 9,000 were denied based on discovery of another ground of inadmissibility, such as 212(a)(9)(C) or smuggling.
Applicants who are found inadmissible due to a health-related ground are advised as to when they may re-apply after “remission.” In those cases, the applicant will first obtain new medical exam results and then attend a new interview. The applicant may not need a second interview.
Tour of Medical Clinic
A new medical clinic recently opened in Ciudad Juarez, so that there are now three sites providing medical exam services. Each clinic sees immigrant visa applicants on a walk-in basis between 6 and 11 a.m. from Monday through Friday, excluding Mexican holidays.
The consulate sets the fees for all medical exams, and they are the same at each clinic. These fees – $220.40 for adults, and $156.40 for children 14 and under – cover all services except vaccinations.
In a tour of the Clinica Medica Internacional, clinic director Dr. Roberto Assael reviewed the various anti-fraud measures employed during the medical exam. First, visa applicants appearing for a medical exam must show their current passports and are assigned a bar code, which is checked at each station in the exam process. In addition, the clinic intake process includes taking a photo of the applicant and an index fingerprint, which is then checked by the medical staff conducting each procedure of the medical exam. In the event that an applicant is asked to provide a urine sample, a clinic employee of the same gender as the applicant observes the applicant providing the sample through a one-way mirror. These measures are taken to make sure that the visa applicant is the individual being examined or tested at all stages of the medical exam.
At the Clinica Medica Internacional, applicants waiting to be seen are seated in a large waiting room with four wall-mounted screens running a continuous video with information about the medical exam process. A clinic staff person also circulates the room to answer questions about the medical examination and to caution applicants to not talk to coyotes – the individuals outside the clinic or consulate trying to persuade applicants to pay for services they don't need. A second building has just been constructed to provide waiting room space for up to 1,000 individuals, so that the many family members who often accompany visa applicants will have an indoor space to wait. This new waiting area also includes computers and printers available for those receiving clinic services.
Men and women are examined in separate areas, with children typically accompanying their mothers to the women's examination area. Before the exam, applicants are given gowns and told what clothing to remove, but no invasive procedures are included in the medical exam. Ultra-violet lights present in the exam room are used to check for invisible tattoos.
Visa applicants ages 15 and older are given an x-ray to screen for tuberculosis. A chest x-ray is mandatory, even for pregnant women, because the protective covering used during the procedure protects against any exposure to radiation. If other problems are detected from the x-ray, e.g. a nodule indicative of cancer, the applicant will be advised of this information and counseled to consult with a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. In the event of a diagnosis of active tuberculosis, in-patient treatment is provided at no cost to the applicant.
In many instances, the clinic will not accept vaccination records from Mexico. According to Dr. Assael, these records are often fraudulent on their face because it is obvious that a multi-year history of vaccinations was noted on a single occasion. For U.S. vaccinations, the clinic will accept a doctor’s letter detailing the vaccinations provided, as long as the letter includes a phone number for contacting the doctor for verification.
Visa applicants suspected of being inadmissible for substance abuse are referred to the psychologist for further screening. They may also be asked to provide a urine sample for drug screening. According to Dr. Assael, this is a frequent occurrence, and will be indicated where the applicant admits prior drug use or a criminal record. A determination of inadmissibility for being a drug abuser or for having a medical or physical disorder with associated harmful behavior is based on the CDC diagnostic criteria contained in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition). In the event that a visa applicant reveals information to the consular officer about drug use or a DUI that wasn't mentioned during the medical examination, the applicant will be required to return to the clinic to be interviewed by the psychologist. In that circumstance, the applicant will pay an additional fee to speak with the psychologist.
Tour of the Application Support Center
All immigrant visa applicants must schedule an appointment with an Application Support Center (ASC) for biometrics and a photo before the consular interview. In addition to the ASC located in the plaza adjacent to the consulate, there are 13 other ASC centers in Mexico, including one in every city in which there is a U.S. consulate.
Applicants should make their ASC appointment between one and seven days prior to the consular interview. At the appointment, each applicant needs to present his or her passport, NVC appointment letter, and printed DS-260 confirmation page. At the ASC adjacent to the consulate, the entire ASC appointment is usually completed within 8-10 minutes. If an applicant schedules his or her consular appointment through the ASC, the applicant should print out the appointment letter and also bring a copy of any consulate correspondence directing the applicant to make an appointment. Children under 7 years old do not have to appear at the ASC if a photo of the child is provided.
Tour of the Consulate
Visa applicants should check in at the waiting room adjacent to the consulate no more than 30 minutes before the designated appointment time. At the time of the scheduled appointment, applicants are escorted to the consulate from the waiting room and go through security. Items that are not permitted on the consulate grounds may be left in lockers available in the waiting room.
Each applicant receives a case number as he or she is admitted to the consulate, and the number is used by the consulate to track the time it takes to complete the appointment. Once inside the consulate, each applicant appears before a document screener who makes sure that all required documents are in order, and then the applicant moves on to be interviewed by a consular officer who determines eligibility for the immigrant visa. Until recently, case numbers were projected on mounted screens to notify applicants about when to approach various windows for document screening and interview, but the consulate is no longer using that method. Instead, the consulate is now employs a "snake system," and applicants are directed to wait in short lines in each section by staff monitoring the order of arrival of applicants. This change was undertaken to make the document review and interview processes more efficient, by ensuring that each employee or officer move on to the next case as soon as an interview is completed.
Generally, only applicants may enter the consulate; family members may accompany applicants only when there is a specific need to do so. This may be appropriate, for example, when an elderly or disabled visa applicant needs assistance or an applicant is accompanied by young children and needs an additional caretaker. Family groups are generally scheduled for interview together. If this has not happened, an applicant may contact the Call Center to request that the appointment time be changed so that the family group can appear together.
The consulate has not been using the outdoor waiting areas because there is no need to do so, given a lower volume of visa applicants. Currently, most applicants complete the appointment in under two hours. After visa approval, it can take one to two weeks for the visa to be issued. If expedite processing is warranted, the applicant may request this at the time of document collection and review.