With summer travel season quickly approaching, if you will be applying for a new visa for re-entry into the US, it’s important to understand possible setbacks to visa processing, especially in light of this administration’s goal to increase scrutiny on visa applicants.
While many people are familiar with “Administrative Processing,” which can delay visa issuance from weeks to months, few details are available regarding what triggers it. US consulates are required to conduct background checks of all visa applicants to determine whether they may pose a security or integrity risk to the US. In seeking to confirm the potential risk of applicants, officers may request that an applicant’s data be further reviewed by DOS headquarters. They do this by requesting a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO). SAOs include:
Mantis: This SAO is triggered when the consulate suspects a visa applicant may be violating the Technology Alert List (TAL). The TAL includes critical fields of employment, such as nuclear technology, robotics, sensors, aircraft and missile systems, advanced computer technology, biotechnology, etc. Officers will listen for key words during your interview indicating you may be working in a critical area. Additionally, if you are a citizen of a country deemed a state sponsor of terrorism (Iran, Sudan, Syria) or a country of proliferation concern, and you are seeking to engage in a commercial or academic activity in a critical field, your application will likely be flagged.
Condor: This SAO is issued when an applicant is from a predominantly Muslim country.
Donkey: This SAO is administered through the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS), which is used to perform namechecks of visa and passport applicants. Checks are run through various search engines that run against government databases.
Eagle: This SAO is triggered when an applicant is from a country deemed to be a state sponsor of terrorism.
If Administrative Processing is required, consulate officers generally do not inform which specific SAO was triggered. Because officers are not well versed in every field, and they are instructed to proceed with caution before approving an application without further review, an increase in Administrative Processing under the Mantis SAO is possible for those with backgrounds in engineering or science, even if their work is not related to a critical area of technology.
If Administrative Processing is triggered, there is little that visa applicants or attorneys can do to determine which specific SAO was triggered or how long it will take for the visa to be issued. The applicant can only monitor application status and wait for a final decision to be made. Therefore, the best practice is for visa applicants to be prepared in case of lengthy delays.