Immigration and Nationality Law | Warshaw Burstein LLP | Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Applicants Facing Increased Prevalence of Administrative Processing By State Department
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Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Applicants Facing Increased Prevalence of Administrative Processing By State Department

Foreign nationals applying for “nonimmigrant” (temporary residence) and “immigrant” (permanent residence) visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad are now facing increased rates of “Administrative Processing” by the State Department, causing delays in the processing of their visa applications.

Consular offices can put visas on hold under Section 221g of the Immigration and Nationality Act because of missing paperwork, or if an application is tagged for additional security screening—especially workers in fields with access to sensitive technology that could have a potential military use for foreign powers. If additional information is needed to help establish an applicant’s eligibility for a visa, the application goes through a process called “Administrative Processing.”  This process allows consular officers to come to a final conclusion as to whether or not the applicant is qualified for the visa for which he or she applied. The duration of the administrative processing generally varies based upon the individual circumstances of each case, and the majority of visa application cases are  still not  selected for this  process. 

Recently, however, Administrative Processing has drastically increased in both occurrence and duration.
When a case is put into administrative processing, it can take anywhere from weeks to months, or even a year to reach a resolution. The duration of such reviews varies based on the individual circumstances in each case, which is why the State Department urges travelers to submit visa applications long before their expected travel dates.
While the DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) generally determines eligibility for a visa, the State Department decides if an applicant is admissible to enter the U.S.  For certain visas, such as H-1B visas and L-1 intracompany transferee visas, there are time limitations once the USCIS approves their eligibility, making their situation far more dire.
Furthermore, delays in work visa processing can have a substantial impact on industries like tech—which claimed nearly 70% of H-1B specialty occupation visas in fiscal year 2020—or architecture, engineering, and surveying, which claimed more than 9% of the visas. See the "Characteristics of Specialty Occupation Workers H-1B for the 2020 Fiscal Year" PDF here.

Unfortunately,  there is no regulation setting any deadline for the State Department to complete Administrative Processing, and options to  compel the acceleration of the processing of  these cases selected for it are extremely limited at best.  We do note that the State Department has just announced that it is working on resolving this issue of increased prevalence and wait times for Administrative Processing cases and hopes to have improvements on this  issue within the  next two months. However, particularly at this time it is strongly advised that those applying for visas abroad should use additional care and preparation in planning for their journeys, including submitting visa applications in as far in advance of  anticipated travel as possible.