National Visa Center Visit Report
Department of State Visa Office Liaison Committee
Held on February 28, 2000
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Attendees for AILA:
Maria Mejia-Opaciuch (Michael Turansick's representative)
Kathleen C. Walker (minutes prepared by Kathleen Walker with help from Steve Clark and Maria Meija-Opaciuch)
Attendees for the National Visa Center:
Andy Simkin, Visa Office
Richard Sherman, Director of National Visa Center
Phil Suter, Deputy Director of the National Visa Center
Gene Schneider, Project Director for Statistics and Contract Representative
First of all, we want to thank the
Department of State ("DOS") for being willing to serve
as our host at the National Visa Center ("NVC")for our
first visit. As usual, these visits are very informative to
help understand processing issues. The NVC is located in
Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the former commissary of the Pease
Air Force Base. It opened in 1994 as the successor to TIVPIC.
The NVC currently has 2,372,355 active
cases. Of those cases, only approximately 18.6% are
represented by attorneys. There are approximately 700,000
inactive cases in the repository.
On average, the NVC received about 5,000
inquiries per week, and from 5,000 to 8,000 petitions per week
from the Immigration and Naturalization Service
("INS"). For the Diversity Visa Program for 2001,
they received 13 million applications versus 8 million for the
Public Inquiry Phone: 603-334-0700 (8:00am EST to 3:45pm EST)
Public Inquiry Fax: 603-334-0791
(E-mail communication is not yet available with NVC staff. Congressional
does have e-mail access.)
NOTE: When you communicate with the
NVC, indicate in the reference section of the letter, the main
topic of your communication. Also, provide the service
center number and DOS consular case number, if available.
1. If an attorney has a change of address, the attorney should fax a notice to the NVC and provide a list of all cases for which the address change should be made.
2. For changes of address concerning petitioners or beneficiaries, the NVC should be notified via fax.
3. For age-out problems, notify the NVC via fax.
4. If you receive a termination letter from a post on a case, which has already been adjusted in the U.S. by the INS, notify the NVC via fax including a copy of the I-551 stamp or card, so that they can request a transfer of the file to storage.
5. For expedites for non age-out cases, communicate the reason to the NVC via fax and, in some cases, the NVC will cable to take the case out of order From a medical perspective, they do not consider an uncomplicated pregnancy to warrant an expedite. They would consider a significant medical problem, such as the need for surgery involving cancer to possibly warrant an expedite request.
6. If you have an error in case
classification or your client has naturalized and the case
classification has changed, notify NVC via fax with the
documentation, such as the naturalization certificate.
Mr. Sherman will be moving in August to
Trinidad and his successor will be Sandra Shipshock, who will be
arriving from Addis Ababa. They have approximately 150 full
time employees and 40-45 temporary employees. Only three
full-time employees are from the DOS. Although they have
been having difficulty recruiting employees, apparently since
October they have received 200 resumes and hired 47 people to go
through a six week training program. They have 2 slots out
of 24 slots to filled for the affidavit of support unit. Candidates
must pass tests for data entry, typing, and languages for some
News of Note:
1. Mr. Sherman announced that the
diversity visa lottery program is going to be moved to
Williamsburg, Kentucky, because of the need for more space at the
NVC. They will need more space for the expansion of
the affidavit of support program and the expansion of the Packet
IV program, discussed below. The site selection was
suggested by Congressman Harold Rogers. Currently, the plan
is to have the diversity visa program move from the NVC by
October 1, 2000. Processing of Diversity cases for
the 2002 fiscal year will be processed at the new site in
Kentucky. Prior diversity cases will continue to be
processed and finalized at the NVC site in Portsmouth.
2. One of the plans in the future is
to expand the current program regarding the review of affidavits
of support from seven posts to all posts. Currently, the
affidavit of support program is in effect for Santo Domingo,
Manila, Cd. Juarez, Montreal, Georgetown (Guyana),Tirana, and
Freetown (Sierra Leone). Out of 126 immigrant visa posts,
these seven account for 33% of all immigrant visas processed at
posts. The top ten posts account for 50% of all immigrant
visas. The top 25 posts represent 75% of all immigrant visa
cases. Mr. Sherman noted that originally the I-864 form had
been designated as a "minimal qualified document" by
the DOS. Then, posts indicated that because the affidavit
of support must be sent in with the OF-169 and the OF-230, that
the development was not viable. Thus, 3 weeks later, the
affidavit of support was no longer a minimal qualified document,
except as to the 7 posts listed above. The affidavit of support
process is to be expanded to Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Bogota,
Colombia; and Guangzhou, China on April 3, 2000.
3. Another goal in the future is for
the NVC to process Packet IV worldwide. They will hope to
eventually schedule immigrant interview appointments worldwide.
Currently, they have a similar procedure in effect for Montreal,
and they also issue immigrant visa appointments for the diversity
4. Throughout the presentation, it was emphasized that the NVC does not adjudicate cases, they merely process them and confirm the existence of documentation. One of their main goals in the affidavit of support program is to reduce the number of 221(g) refusals, because of failure to document.
5. Within the past month, the NVC has
started a new system to request that applicants sign a waiver to
allow the NVC to confirm income information with the Internal
Revenue Service ("IRS"). This request is based on
the documentation submitted with the I-864 affidavit of support.
Apparently, 90% of cases are normally in compliance. Meaning,
that the information contained on the affidavit of support and
the supporting documentation is the same as reflected in IRS
records. Approximately 10% of the cases, however, are not in
compliance and these noncompliance cases are slowing down
processing at the posts. Thus, by requesting a waiver from
applicants to contact the IRS to verify the information, the NVC
is able to compare the adjusted gross income reflected on the
form with the 3 years of tax returns submitted to the IRS. The
IRS is supposed to provide a 2 day turn-a-round service. It
is possible that the IRS will be following up on noncompliance,
meaning cases in which a person may indicate on the affidavit of
support that they have earned more money than is reflected on the
tax return. This issue also comes up as to W-2s, in which
the W-2 does not reflect the same amount of income indicated on
the affidavit of support form. Typically, the affidavit of
support form may indicate a higher number in order to meet
minimum income requirements. The NVC is requesting that a
letter be submitted explaining discrepancies in these
numbers. Basically, if additional earnings are received
from whatever source, an explanation should be included. Mr.
Sherman emphasized that the NVC was just requiring a letter in
this situation and not further documentary evidence.
6. The NVC indicated that they are not
receiving any immigrant visa petition revocations. Revocations
are sent directly to the INS Service Centers.
7. The NVC is seeking funds to
establish a Call Center to assist applicants with the completion
of the Affidavit of Support. A $50.00 fee might be charged
for this assistance in the future to fund the Call Center's
operations, if approved.
1. The NVC has two communication
units: the Correspondence Unit and the Problem Resolution
Unit. They receive about 5,000 pieces of correspondence per
week and are really only staffed to handle that amount of
correspondence. They have a backlog due to being off-line
for 6-8 weeks for a computer upgrade, the increased work load
from additional adjustment of status cases, and the increased
case load from the sudden influx of cases from the INS after the
CIA hold ended. They indicated that they basically have no
backlog concerning changes of address. These inquiries are
handled in 2 days. The backlog for general correspondence
is about 2 2 months, and attorney correspondence is 6 weeks.
They note that attorney correspondence does not typically ask
priority date information. The NVC is trying to reduce this
backlog. Unfortunately, under the new contract, the DOS has
with their processing contractor, they are not allowed over time.
They are working on this issue, but it causes additional
2. The issue of INS notification on an I-140 of a desire to consular process was discussed. The NVC is reviewing the possibility of if attorney-certified copies of the petition or notarized copies might be acceptable, but at this time, the answer is no to our ability to try to expedite the file processing by the NVC by forwarding a file directly to the NVC.
3. The issue of following-to-join
cases was also addressed. The goal in the following-to-join
case is to get the INS to cable the post for processing, not the
NVC, according to Mr. Sherman. He did note that the NVC
does process the visas 92-93 refugee and asylee cases, and that
Lincoln Service Center processes all of these cases for the INS
and then forwards them to the NVC.
4. If the NVC is provided with the INS
receipt number, they are able to locate the case. Ms. Susan
Merfeld is in charge of data input and the creation of files for
the NVC. She indicated that they do have data share 80% to
90% of the time from the INS. One of the reasons for the
failure of data share in the 10%-20% margin is that INS has
CLAIMS and National CLAIMS and for some reason not all fields are
captured. A common error that the NVC has to deal with is
incorrect surnames for nationalities that typically have two
surnames (e.g., Mexico, China, etc.). The long term goal is
to eventually go paperless, but they must send the supporting
documentation to the post. This point is the reason for the
reticence of the DOS to adjudicate the case at post before
receiving the record from the NVC. The NVC files are
created using the Julian date(day of the year) plus 500 so that
it is possible to determine cases created at post versus cases
created at the NVC. Once a month, Charlie Oppenheim of the
Visa Office tells the NVC how far to move the priority date
forward and additional cases are brought in for processing.
After the Packet IIIs are processed, the electronic record is
sent to post and within 2 days, the physical file is also sent
out. Any communication in a file that has a G-28 is sent to
the attorney of record. Typically, the case is received at
post within 2 to 3 days from being sent by the NVC.
Immigrant Visa Processing:
Immigrant Visa Processing is conducted by the Immigrant Visa Petition Unit. If the case is current, it will take from 2 to 2 2 months for the case to actually be forwarded to post, if the case is not subject to the affidavit of support review process. The NVC's target is to reduce this time frame to 10-15 business days by May for current cases. Global cases (waiting for visa numbers) are being processed 4 2 months prior to availability of a visa number instead of the normal 6 months.
As to their case load, about 2 years ago,
the NVC received about 8,000 petitions a week and 30 were I-140
cases. Now, they are receiving about 5,000 a week and 600
are I-140 cases. In addition, because I-140 cases are now
tending to choose consular processing over adjustment, their case
loads have been increasing. Also, in the past, 60% of the
petitions received from the INS were current. Now, 80-90%
are current. NVC capacity is 20,000 globals per month.
The NVC now has 40 to 50,000 per month. The increase in
globals occurred because Charlie Oppenheim at the Visa Office was
trying to advance priority dates in response to the slowness of
INS adjustment adjudications. Now, with the INS speeding up
adjustment adjudications, it is anticipated that priority date
advancement will not advance as quickly. In addition, for
example, the NVC has sent out 104,854 Packet IIIs on Cd. Juarez
cases, and has only received a response on 41% of the cases.
Thus, because of a lack of information received on the cases, the
need to continue to progress the priority dates is created.
These points described above all contribute
to the NVC backlogs. The backlogs are resulting in a six week
delay in processing, which should end in May. On current
cases in May, the NVC hopes to provide a 10 to 15 business day
turn around (meaning in from the INS and out to post).
Of course, the timing is different when the NVC process includes
review by the affidavit fo support unit.
When a case is received by the NVC, they are
usually able to process the bar code information on the petition
received from the INS. Please note that the NVC will not
begin processing a case, if you just send them an approval notice
from the INS. They must receive the actual petition from
the INS. The reason is that the INS will ultimately insist
at time of entry to the U.S., that the applicant present the
packet received from the NVC, which includes the INS petition.
Sometimes, when the NVC staff swipes the bar
code on the INS petition, the information will not appear. Fortunately,
this problem only occurs in 10% to 20% of the cases. Also,
upon data entry, the data entry clerk has to go ahead and enter
information for the DOS that is not inputted by the INS. This
information typically relates to the beneficiary versus the
petitioner. In addition, the data entry clerks must review
the data entered by the INS to try to confirm the accuracy of the
information. The goal of the NVC is to enter each petition
as a case within 24 hours of receipt. The files arrive from
the service centers in one to five weeks. The Texas Service
Center is the slowest in forwarding cases to the NVC. Cases
from the Vermont Service Center typically arrive in one week.
After the data for a petition is entered
into the NVC system, the petition is forwarded to the Case
Creation Unit. In the Unit, an NVC folder for the case is
created and the case is assigned an NVC case number. The
folder label is also generated. If the petition is current,
the folder is labeled with a red dot sticker and forwarded to the
Packet Unit, which ships all Packets IIIs and Packet IVs (for
The NVC ships all packets to attorneys for which a G-28 is included in the file. In cases not represented by attorneys, the packets are sent to the beneficiaries. Please note that the I-864, in cases for the seven posts for which the NVC processes I-864s, is sent to the petitioner. Except for Canadian cases and cases involving the Affidavit of Support posts, when the NVC sends out the Packet III, it ends its case involvement, and communications on the case should be addressed to the post.
The NVC electronically transmits data
regarding the petition to the post within 2 days after processing
of the Packet III on current cases. Packet III is mailed
out via DHL to DHL worldwide headquarters in Amsterdam, Holland.
DHL then mails the Packet via the Dutch mail system to the
Consulate or beneficiary, as applicable. DHL provides door
to door tracking unlike Postal Express. The system is not
used if the beneficiary resides in the U.S. In sending
Packet IIIs to posts, DHL charges NVC a minimum price per
shipment so the NVC sometimes holds a post's files waiting for
more volume. If the NVC anticipates a wait of four weeks or
more for volume, they will go ahead and forward the Packets.
Typically, the Packets are mailed on a weekly basis. 105
posts received Packet IIIs via DHL and the other 19 posts receive
the Packets via diplomatic pouch.
If the petition is not current, the petition
folder is stored in the NVC's repository, until the NVC computer
system alerts the NVC to pull the file. NVC runs a program
every month to pull cases by qualifying date for processing
usually six months before the case's priority date becomes
During this entire process, a quality
control unit ensures that folders are created correctly and
identified correctly as current or not current. Half of the
immigrant visas cases pending at the NVC are for Cd. Juarez.
Affidavit of Support Processing:
The Affidavit of Support ("AOS")
Unit is headed by Andrew Hayden. The Affidavit of Support
Unit reviews the I-864 for the following seven posts: Santo
Domingo, Manila, Cd. Juarez, Montreal, Georgetown, Tirana, and
Freetown. They only review the I-864 for completeness and
accuracy. The program was instigated to reduce the denial
of cases for lack of documentation of the I-864. The
program will be expanded to Port au Prince, Bogota, and
Guangzhou on April 3, 2000.
The AOS Unit receives cases after processing by the Case Creation Unit. The AOS Unit will then send out the I-864 to the petitioner. NVC has found that 33% of the cases are being processed slower than in the past because of the Unit's review. The AOS reviewer will give the petitioner two tries to send in the right documentation. After that, most cases will be forwarded to the post. Cases are normally not retained by the AOS Unit for longer than 120 days. Cases are never sent to the post, if the NVC does not receive the OF-230, OF-169, and I-864, if required. After one year, the NVC will sent the standard termination notice on the case, Packet 4A, to the beneficiary.
Mr. Hayden noted that the typical problems
on a I-864 are missing tax supporting documentation or missing
W-2s. He noted that for linked cases, it is possible to
submit one original affidavit of support with the supporting
documents. Thus, if the case has derivatives, they should be
listed on part 3 of the form and copies of the principal's I-865
should be submitted for each of their files. If other
applicants are not derivatives (e.g., immediate relative case
family members), then you should submit a separate original I-864
for each file. Andy Simkin of the Visa Office said
that the membership should consult the DOS website, which
contains information on the I-864.
Just a point of note, the NVC confirmed that
all Iranian cases go to the following posts with the following
allocations on a monthly basis:
Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) 100, Naples
100, Ankara 265, Vienna 8 (only when the individual has ties
to the location), and Frankfurt 50. The NVC noted that
someone could request assignment to a particular post for
processing, but that the assignment is dependent upon several
Diversity Visa Program:
Jerry Rice is in charge of the Diversity Visa Program ("DVP") and has been in charge of the DVP, since its inception at the DOS. Typically, they always have four diversity visa programs ongoing at any one point-in-time. For example, the NVC is currently preparing a report to Congress on the DVP for 1999. They are in the midst of visa issuance and processing of Packet IIIs and IVs for DVP 2000 cases. They are also in the middle of applicant selection for DVP 2001, which will be conducted in mid-April. Finally, they are in the process of planning for DVP 2002. Thus, it can be very confusing as to which particular program is being discussed. For DVP 2001, they received 13,000,000 entries, which was 5,000,000 entries over the previous year. Typical problems in the program are duplicate applications. In the last round, they received approximately 800,000 duplicate applications. In the past, they have received as many as 4,000 applications from one individual. Sometimes, they end up not catching the duplicate problem until after Packet III is sent out, but they try to catch the problem early. In 3 weeks, Mr. Rice will be running the program for the random selection of winners. They plan to pick out less than 100,000 winners this year, because last year, they actually did have people who were selected, who applied, and were just unable to be processed from a timing perspective. Also, they noted that some chosen applicants end up not being qualified due to a lack of a high school diploma or some ground of inadmissability. Of course, only 55,000 visas are available. Cases that are not selected will then be shredded to the tune of 12.9 million for DVP 2001. The shredding machines are referred to as "Igor 1 and 2." They did note that in receiving the Packet IVs from applicants, the information is just checked for completion and accepted at face value. Again, they emphasize that they are not adjudicating the cases. As to the duplicates, they are not shredded immediately. They also do check the duplication issue from individuals who previously filed duplicates, just from the perspective of being more aware that these individuals might be filing duplicate applications again.