Archive for February, 2012

Visa Pilot Program Announced

February 2, 2012

The Department of State recently announced a Visa Pilot Program intended to ease the visa issuance process for certain low-risk applicants.

Details of the program have not yet been determined but generally applicants that have successfully applied for a visa in the past and who meet certain parameters will not be required to appear in person for visa renewals.

Also under consideration for exemption from interview requirements are certain very young or older applicants.

This exemption from interview will free appointments for first-time applicants, reducing appointment wait times.


L-1 Visa Validity Change Announced

February 2, 2012

The Department of State announced that it will be publishing a rule to de-link visa validity with petition validity for L-1 visa applicants. What does this mean?

Usually the visa end date is the same as the petition end date.  The petition is what is filed with the Immigration Service to provide initial approval for visa issuance at a U.S. Consulate. This is most often a petition specifically for the beneficiary applying for the visa, but “blanket L” petitions are also available in some situations. A Blanket L petition can be used by an unlimited number of visa applicants.

An example to show this point is: Mary is approved for a change of status to L when she is in the U.S. In 2010. She does not travel outside the U.S. Until 2012.  The petition end date is in 2013. The L visa can be issued only to 2013 as the rule now stands.

Once the rule is changed, the end date of the visa would not be limited in this example to 2013.  Instead the consular officer would look at the visa reciprocity schedule for Mary’s home country.

If she is from China, which allows L visas for two years, the visa could be issued to 2014 in this example. If she is from India, which allows L-1 visas for 5 years, the visa could be issued to 2017 (if it is an L-1A or 2015 if it is an L-1B – because of the limit on total L status duration).

Whether this change is helpful thus depends on the reciprocity schedule of the home country.

It will likely be most helpful with Blanket Ls close to the petition expiration date (the first Blanket L is granted for only three years, but the extension is indefinite) and for visa applications closely preceding an extension filing.

The effective date of the rule has not been announced.

Visa Processing Tips

February 1, 2012

All “non-immigrant” (meaning temporary) status approvals (H-1B, L, O, etc.) by the Immigration Service in the U.S. are sent by the Service Center to the Kentucky Consular Center.  The KCC scans the petition and supporting documents so they can be accessed electronically by the U.S. consulates abroad for visa issuance.

If the beneficiary is in the U.S. and changing or extending status, no visa is needed.  But if the beneficiary is outside the U.S. and waiting to enter or is planning foreign travel, the timing of the notification is very important.

The Service Center will overnight the approval if the petition shows that the beneficiary will enter the U.S. in less than 30 days.  Otherwise it will send the approval by regular mail to the KCC.

The KCC categorizes approvals for scanning as follows:

  • Expedited cases (as designated by the Service Center) are sent in one day
  • O, P, T, U are sent within 3 days
  • H, L, R and all other cases that are not for extension or change of status  are sent within 5 days
  • Extension and change of status cases are sent within 10 days

When the beneficiary schedules the visa appointment, he or she should inquire whether the approval has been scanned by the KCC. If not, the consulate can contact the KCC in advance of the appointment and have the case scanned.

If the case is not scanned, the consular officer is prevented from issuing the visa until the approval is available electronically. This is true even if the beneficiary has the original approval notice in hand.

Strangely, a few consulates still require the original approval notice from the beneficiary despite the fact that the electronic approval is required for visa issuance and they have been instructed not to require it.

We always send the beneficiary a full copy of the petition and the original approval notice when we know that a visa is required.

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