APS News

Quinn Receives State Department Response on Improved Visa Process

Despite reported improvements, the APS continues to encourage all visa applicants to apply at least 3-4 months ahead of time. If an applicant has not received a visa within 30 days since the visa application, the applicant should visit the National Academy of Sciences visa website.

Fill out the “Visa Questionnaire” (4th link down in the list on the right hand side of the page). Once the questionnaire is completed, NAS staff review the information each week to identify visa applications that are still pending 30 days past the initial application date.

This is quite helpful, since once each week every case that has been pending over 30 days is now reported by the NAS to the State Department. If the case is not resolved the following week, the NAS continues to report it again each week until the case is resolved one way or another. The State Department also communicates each week to the NAS regarding which cases they have resolved.

This system helps make sure that the State Department is aware of those cases that have been significantly delayed, and also helps to make sure they don’t “fall through the cracks.” While this process doesn’t guarantee US Government action, it guarantees visibility to pending applications.

APS President Helen Quinn received a letter in September from Maura Harty, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, in response to her signing a joint statement on the need to streamline the visa process.

Harty indicated that new procedures arranged with the Department of Homeland Security and other Federal agencies have now reduced visa processing time. "As of September 2, 98% of all Visas Mantis cases are being cleared in less than 30 days," she wrote. "More than 2000 on-going cases were just cleared." The State Department has also recently begun posting visa appointment wait times on the Internet. See http://www.travel.state.gov .

In May, the APS joined more than 20 other science, higher education and engineering organizations in developing a joint statement urging the federal government to adopt six practical recommendations for improving the current visa processing crisis by removing unnecessary barriers to multinational collaborations. (See APS News, July 2004. Full text of the statement)

Taken together, the group represented 95% of the US research community. It was the first time that US science and academic leaders have endorsed a comprehensive plan to address the visa-processing quagmire in the wake of heightened security concerns following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The statement received much attention, including front page coverage by the Financial Times, and articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Science.

Since then, the Departments of State and Homeland Security have reportedly taken action on a number of the statement's recommendations. According to informal reports from State and DHS officials, additional steps are also being considered to extend the duration of the Visa Mantis security clearance, although the timing of this change also remains unclear.

While the State Department's response indicates some positive changes, many scientists remain skeptical about the reported improvements. As Quinn said in a response to Harty, "A considerable number of our colleagues have had, or know others who have had, bad experiences with visa applications and it will take some time period of better results before many have faith that the system is working well."

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette