Since September 11, 2001, nonimmigrant visa applications have been subject to a great degree of scrutiny. All visa applicants, including those sponsored by the NIH, are subject to clearances by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) through its U.S. Embassies and Consulates BEFORE a U.S. entry visa can be issued. This applies to applications for either a new visa or renewal of the visa. Additional security or technology checks are in place (known as administrative processing, as well as requirements for in-person interviews, which can result in delays of 30 to 120 additional business days or more in some cases. In addition, H-1B and O-1 visa applicants (and their dependents) also require verification of their H-1B or O-1 approval directly from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before visa issuance. Visa applicants are asked for their patience and understanding.
These potentially long delays in visa processing at the U.S. Embassies and Consulates will undoubtedly affect our foreign national scientists, whether they are new candidates who have not yet arrived, or those already in the country and are planning to travel overseas temporarily and require a valid visa before returning to the U.S. Unfortunately, neither the Department of State (DOS) nor the Division of International Services (DIS) can expedite a visa application.
It is now more important than ever that the DIS receive cases for new scientists with the proper amount of processing time. This will give the DIS the time to send the scientist the needed immigration documents, and it will give the scientist the time to apply for the visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
For foreign national scientists already at the NIH who plan to travel overseas and who need to apply for a visa before returning to the U.S., the DIS recommends the following:
- Check with DIS BEFORE any travel outside the U.S.
- Check the DIS Travel Advisories.
- Obtain any necessary travel signature for NIH-sponsored J-1 Exchange Visitors during the DIS Walk-in Advising hours.
- Notify DIS if the scientist will be applying for a visa stamp. This is necessary to confirm that a new visa is necessary (to avoid unnecessary applications).
- Obtain a letter for travel (doc) describing the research at the NIH.
- Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate BEFORE leaving the U.S. to learn if you must schedule a visa interview (and how long it may take to schedule one) and prepare visa application forms.
- Book a flight that allows flexibility in the return date.
- Notify DIS if the visa application is PENDING more than 30 days from the interview date. This is so the DIS can keep a record of those experiencing delays.
- Provide the date of the interview, name of Consulate, and reason for travel.
- Also provide any letters or memos to the DIS that the scientist received from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
- Notify DIS when the NIH-sponsored scientist has RETURNED to the NIH laboratory/branch. This is very important so that the DIS can update our records.
- Provide a copy of the new visa and Form I-94 Arrival/Departure record to the DIS. When sending PII, always use a secure method of transfer such as email encryption, fax, hand delivery, or the Secure Email and File Transfer (SEFT) service.