R 130041Z DEC 01
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS
SPECIAL EMBASSY PROGRAM
UNCLAS STATE 212953
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS, CMGT
SUBJECT: PRESCREENING OF IMMIGRANT VISA CASES: CHANGES TO FAM GUIDANCE CONCERNING PRESCREENING PROGRAMS
This message has been cleared with M/P(SEP).
1. Over the past several years, posts and NVC have been involved in a number of initiatives involving prescreening immigrant visa cases. These efforts fall broadly into three areas: case screening by NVC, document review by post prior to scheduling interview (often called "Packet 3.5" systems) and document review/case preparation assistance by a third party such as a travel agent, non-profit or nongovernmental organization. Regardless of the method used, the goal of these IV prescreening programs is to assist IV applicants prepare as fully as possible for interview, reducing the number of 221(G) refusals, allowing more efficient use of IV interview resources and improving the security of consular operations by reducing the number of trips that IV applicants make to the Embassy or consular section.
2. Based upon considerable experience with these techniques, the procedural notes regarding immigrant visa processing in 9 FAM 42.55 and 42.63 have been revised to provide guidance to consular managers considering immigrant visa prescreening activities.
3. These notes, repeated below, will be incorporated in the next update of USCISERTS and 9 FAM.
4. The text of 9 FAM 42.55 PN1.2 "Documentarily Qualified" Applicants has been updated as follows:
"Documentarily qualified" means that the alien has returned Form DS-2001 (the "Packet 3" letter) or otherwise informed the post that all required documents have been obtained, and that the post has completed its clearance procedures. Under some circumstances, consular managers may establish other screening mechanisms to verify that an applicant is documentarily qualified. As post is notified during the reporting period that an applicant is documentarily qualified, the automated Immigrant Visa processing system should be updated as soon as possible.
5. The procedural notes in 9 FAM 42.63, beginning at Note 11, have been updated as follows:
Determining Alien Documentarily Qualified
An applicant is considered to be documentarily qualified when two facets of the processing procedure have been completed:
(1) The alien has returned Form DS-2001, Instructions for Immigrant Visa Applicants, and declared that all of the required documents have been obtained, or has otherwise notified post or NVC that they are prepared for interview; and
(2) The post has completed local clearances, and clearance requests for other posts, or has reason to believe that they will be completed before a visa number will be available for the applicant. [See 42.52 PN3.7 regarding the reporting of documentarily qualified applicants.]
The use of Form DS-2001 by the applicant is optional. This form is provided as a simple way for applicants to communicate by mail or fax. Post should accept any reasonable notification from the applicant, signed or unsigned, in determining qualification for further processing. Electronic means of notification are equally acceptable.
Means of Establishing Whether Applicant is "Documentarily Qualified"
Although different operating environments may call for flexibility in processes used to determine whether an applicant is "documentarily qualified," consular officers must remember the importance of this concept in immigrant visa processing, particularly in numerically controlled visa categories. Any process used to determine that an applicant is documentarily qualified must be used consistently throughout the immigrant visa processing district, must have the prior approval of the Visa Office if prescreening procedures will be used, and must be rigorously monitored to ensure that the goals of fairness, efficiency and adequate internal controls are met.
Individual declaration versus prescreening
In many countries, consular managers may determine that self-attestation by visa applicants is adequate evidence of being documentarily qualified. In other words, by returning the DS-2001, its electronic equivalent or other communication with post, the applicant may declare that he or she is documentarily qualified and prepared for interview.
In other countries, consular managers may determine that a prescreening mechanism of some sort is appropriate. In considering the implementation of a prescreening mechanism, consular managers should address the following points:
- How high is the overall 221(g) refusal rate in immigrant visa processing? To what extent could this rate be reduced by more rigorous prior review of the documents submitted in connection with the application to ensure that the applicant really is "documentarily qualified?"
- Will implementation of a prescreening mechanism reduce the number of times the applicants enter the consular section, thus improving both customer service and security?
- Prescreening will add time at the beginning of the immigrant visa process prior to formal application and interview. How does the length of this additional prescreening time compare to the average amount of time and effort expended to resolve 221(g) and other refusals? (Note that the fact that prescreening takes more time than resolving a refusal is not necessarily an argument against implementing this type of strategy. Added time taken up with mailing documents back and forth is arguably less burdensome on both post and the applicant than time spent waiting in line and in waiting rooms, often in a city other than the place of normal residence.)
- If post has processing backlogs, does time spent processing unqualified applicants delay processing for qualified cases?
- At lower volume posts, do consular managers find that the small number of cases makes it difficult to realize economies of scale? Would prescreening streamline the process?
- In the immigrant visa process, the burden of preparing for interview rests primarily upon the applicant. In considering a prescreening process, is post making an effort to ensure that post does not do work on behalf of the applicant?
- What is the real cost to the USG of any additional screening process?
Immigrant Visa Prescreening Strategies
When immigrant visa prescreening appears justified, one of three mechanisms should be used:
- Document review and interview scheduling by the National Visa Center;
- Document review by post prior to interview; or,
- Document review/case preparation through a travel agency or voluntary agency program.
Regardless of which mechanism is utilized, posts must coordinate prescreening programs with the Visa Office and should not begin without prior authorization. Among other things, VO will require a written Standard Operating Procedure with details on internal controls and exceptions handling and the opportunity to review any new forms or information sheets that post plans to utilize. Posts should bear in mind regulations concerning use and approval of nonstandard forms.
Document Review and Interview Scheduling by the National Visa Center
Based upon management considerations, the Visa Office has directed NVC to review documents and schedule interviews for a limited number of immigrant visa processing posts. The goal of this program is two-fold: to shift the overwhelming majority of clerical responsibilities from post to NVC while facilitating communication with the petitioner, attorneys and applicants residing in the United States. Further questions concerning this program should be directed to CA/VO/F/P and NVC.
Document Review by Post Prior to Interview
In a document review system at post, applicants are asked to obtain documents required for immigrant visa interview and then submit them by mail, courier or dropbox to post for review. (If at all possible, applicants should not appear in person with these documents until actually scheduled for interview.) Under such a procedure, applicants are considered "documentarily qualified" only when they have demonstrated that they have in their possession all of the documents required.
It is important in such a prescreening procedure that detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) provide guidance to FSN screeners to limit misunderstandings and accusations of impropriety. Specifically, the SOP must provide:
- Written standards for documents submitted;
- Escalation procedures in cases when, despite repeated appearances at the consular section, the applicant remains unprepared;
- Procedures for handling multiple secondary documents submitted in lieu of requested primary documents;
- Procedures for documenting contacts with applicants or their agents as the documents are submitted and reviewed. These logging procedures should be as terse as meaningfully possible and should utilize the Comments feature in the modernized Immigrant Visa application (IVO); and,
- Provisions for regular officer oversight of the process, including regular detailed audits of individual cases and questions to applicants at time of interview concerning the their experience with the prescreening process.
Travel or Voluntary Agency Programs
Although formal travel agency programs have been used at some posts for many years in nonimmigrant visa processing, it is also possible to establish formal programs with voluntary agencies or travel agents to provide case preparation assistance in immigrant visa cases. Post may find that voluntary agencies with experience working in the area of refugee resettlement have particular expertise in this area. Due to the greater importance of the immigrant visa process, and the involvement in most cases of US citizen family members or employers, oversight and control is even more important than is the case in nonimmigrant visa processing.
In designing such a program, consular managers must keep several points in mind.
- It must be made very clear to applicants and their agents that the Department does not endorse or require participation in any private screening program. Care must be taken to ensure that applications received through travel or voluntary agencies do not receive preferential treatment, either in terms of expedited processing or degree of scrutiny exercised.
- Posts may provide an information sheet describing the availability of such services. This information sheet must include a statement stressing that seeking such services is entirely voluntary and reiterating the fact that the Department of State does not endorse a particular program. This information sheet must be submitted to CA/VO for approval prior to initiating such a program.
- No particular service provider can be provided with preferential treatment. Any service provider, whether non- or for-profit, which requests to participate in such a program should be given identical access to the potential customer pool, subject to review by post Fraud Programs Manager. Any training, monitoring, or feedback provided to one service provider must be offered to other providers equally.
Posts should contact CA/VO for further guidance on these types of screening programs. Written Standard Operating Procedures and copies of any proposed information sheets must be submitted to the Department for approval prior to initiating any formal prescreening program.
End text of revisions to FAM procedural notes.
6. Septel discusses changes to the IV packet system that should also be taken into account when designing communication or prescreening strategies. Post comments and questions concerning these changes are welcome and should be addressed to CA/VO.