Visa Delays - Frequently Asked Questions

What is it about the U.S. visa application process that causes people to get "stuck" outside the U.S.?

All individuals who apply at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad for a U.S. entry or re-entry visa are screened before the visa is issued, regardless of nationality. After the events of September 11, 2001, no consular post wants to make the mistake of issuing a visa to an individual who should not get one.

The consular post conducts an initial review of the application and interviews the applicant about his/her planned activity in the U.S. It is at this initial stage that clear and concise information about the student's or scholar's teaching, research, or other activity should be explained. In most cases, the visa is issued within a matter of days or weeks.

Issues that may cause problems or delays in the visa application process:

  • The applicant has not spelled his/her name consistently on all documents (passport, visa application, supporting documentation). This can cause delays and confusion. The name given on the visa application and supporting documentation should be exactly the same as the name listed in the passport.
  • The applicant has not read and followed the tips and guidance on the website of the U.S. consular post having jurisdiction over the visa application; this can cause delays or denial.
  • The consular post cannot understand the kind of work the person is doing and officers cannot assess the risk/benefit of granting the person a visa. A security clearance will likely be requested if the field is unclear.
  • The applicant is from a country considered to pose a risk or is working in a field that is considered "sensitive" in some way, or if the Consular Lookout (CLASS) system turns up a "hit" on his/her name. The consular officers may tell the individual that a security advisory opinion (SAO) is needed. The consular post will send the applicant away telling him/her that the security advisory opinion will take an undetermined period of time and he/she will be notified when it has been completed.

What happens when a security advisory opinion (SAO) is requested?

The consular post asks the Department of State in Washington, D.C. to initiate the process of requesting clearances from various government agencies and databases including the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Interpol, the national criminal and law enforcement databases, the DOS Bureau of Non-proliferation, and others.

The Bureau of Non-proliferation is concerned with technology transfer and other issues. This bureau considers many technologies that people study and research at OSU to be "sensitive" technologies with possibly risky applications or at risk of being exported. It is important to understand this in order to understand why OSU researchers are subject to these clearances.

How can we prevent this from occurring?

Although discretion to request SAOs always rests with the consular post, what follows will well-prepare the student/scholar for travel:

  • Students/scholars should follow all directions from the Consulate where they intend to apply for a visa stam and list their name consistently on all documents.
  • Students/scholar should read all OIS Travel Information
  • Students/scholars who are already at OSU should discuss their travel plans with and International Student/Scholar Advisor before leaving the U.S.
  • Scholars should be prepared to present a packet of information to the Consulate if asked for additional information, including:
    • Letter from advisor, see details below
    • Copy of most recent CV
    • Copies of a few of latest publications, if available
  • Departments should provide the scholar with a brief, concise letter from the faculty sponsor or other department official describing the nature of the research. See an example letter here.

What should be done if a student or scholar has been stuck outside the U.S. with no security clearance for over 30 days?

First, report the delay to the Office of International Services. If the applicant is still awaiting the security clearance and visa 90 days or more after making the application, please notify OIS again.

Unfortunately, congressional offices are unable to help expedite visa issuance. The Department of State considers this to be a matter of national security and will not circumvent the security advisory opinion process under any circumstances. However, a combination of efforts on the part of congressional representatives, institutions such as OSU, and higher education associations has resulted in high-level awareness of the problems and there are on-going efforts for improvement.

What do we do about salary and benefits for a graduate student or scholar who is already on appointment at OSU and is unexpectedly gone for many months?

OSU departments, laboratories, and centers should decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle this issue. Decisions about whether to place someone on unpaid leave, charge vacation days, or terminate employment should be made at the departmental level.