National Visa Center Visit Report

From

Department of State Visa Office Liaison Committee

Held on February 28, 2000

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

 

Attendees for AILA:

Joseph Ching

Steve Clark

Roberta Freedman

Jan Pederson

Joel Pfeffer

Jack Pinnix

Gerald Rovner

Maria Mejia-Opaciuch (Michael Turansick's representative)

Chris Stowe

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

 

General Introduction:

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 previous year.

Contact Numbers:

Public Inquiry Phone:  603-334-0700 (8:00am EST to 3:45pm EST)

Public Inquiry Fax:       603-334-0791

Website:  http://travel.state.gov/nvc.html (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.

Personnel:

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 positions.

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 visa program.

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.

Communications:

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 processing problems. 

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 Canadians).

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 current.

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. 

Iranian Cases:

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 factors.

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. 

END