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Update From The National Visa Center

by Kristina Karpinski

On September 12, 2008, CLINIC held its second annual visit to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Director Lynne Skeirik welcomed participants and provided an update on developments at the NVC. NVC staff conducted a tour of the facility, as well as an informative question and answer session. This article summarizes information provided during the visit.

Updates from Director Lynne Skeirik. NVC Director Skeirik explained that in the years following September 11th, the Bureau of Consular Affairs focused on reform of the non-immigrant visa process. As visa demand grew over recent years and consular sections overseas felt their resources strained, the NVC was asked to provide more assistance to posts in the processing of immigrant visas. The NVC is now responsible for document collection and review for all consular posts and for scheduling immigrant visa appointments for all posts except for Guangzhou, China. The goal is to send cases to posts that are completely ready for the interview or 100 percent "document qualified." This means that the NVC has requested, received, and reviewed the DS-230 Parts I and II, the Affidavit of Support (I-864), and all the necessary supporting documentation. This includes the original or certified copies of civil documents.

Director Skeirik reported that 88 percent of cases sent to posts for interviews are 100 percent document qualified. If a document is requested from an applicant, the NVC will wait 60 days and if no response, the case will be sent on to the post. However, in order for a case to be minimally qualified and sent to post, it must contain the I-864, the DS-230, and a police certificate (unless the applicant is from a country where one is not available). Attendees were reminded that the nature of the work at the NVC is administrative and not adjudicative. Therefore, the NVC reviews the I-864 and DS-230 for completeness but does not make determinations on the eligibility or admissibility of a visa applicant. Director Skeirik also noted that if the NVC finds an error or omission on an I-864 or the DS-230, due to privacy concerns it must request a new form instead of returning the original form to the sponsor or applicant for completion or amendment.

In the last couple of years, the NVC has also been asked to help reduce the significant backlog in immigrant visa processing at the posts in Ciudad Juarez and Santo Domingo. Files were shipped back from Santo Domingo to the NVC for document collection, review, and scheduling of the immigrant visa appointments. The new procedures of document collection and review have increased the productivity at both of these posts. In Santo Domingo, productivity has increased by an estimated 50 percent.

The NVC continues to increase its reliance on electronic communication with applicants and is moving towards online filing of the immigrant visa form. An electronic version of the DS-230 is in the works and will be a longer, more complex form that will include the designation of agent form. Since August 11, 2008 the NVC has accepted payment of the affidavit of support and immigrant visa fees electronically from a checking or savings account held at a U.S. financial institution. The plan is to allow for credit card payments in the future.

A pilot program offering the option of all online submissions is currently underway at the consulate in Santiago, Chile. Communications between the NVC and the applicant are all by e-mail and original documents are scanned and sent electronically to the post. Applicants are expected to bring all original documents with them to the interview. Santiago was chosen as the location for the pilot program since it has a small, low fraud workload.

The NVC is now more involved in the consular processing of derivative follow-to-join cases. USCIS service centers and local district offices are now required to forward the approved Form I-824, Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition, to the NVC. Once the NVC receives the approved I-824 it can start the consular processing for the derivative(s) abroad by sending out the appropriate instructions, including the fee collection, document review and appointment scheduling.

Processing Statistics. The NVC processes approximately 400,000 immigrant visa cases per year and 27,000 adoption cases. At any given time the NVC has about two million files at the facility. Approximately forty percent of the workload consists of cases for Ciudad Juarez. Other posts with large caseloads include Santo Domingo, Manila, and Guangzhou. Annually, the NVC processes about ten million pieces of mail of which seven million is outgoing and three million is incoming. The facility receives about 10,000 petitions per week from USCIS. The majority of the petitions are from the Vermont Service Center and the California Service Center. Once the petitions are received they are immediately logged into the NVC system and given a case number and barcode. It usually takes about 6 months for the fee payment and document collection process. The time frame for when a visa interview will be scheduled varies from post to post. The NVC will notify the applicant of the interview about six to eight weeks before the scheduled date. The interview notice will be sent to all parties involved: the applicant, the petitioner, and the attorney/representative/designated agent.

The NVC receives 40,000 public inquiries per week, including letters, e-mails, and phone calls from attorneys/representatives, congressional offices, and the public. Sixty-five percent of inquiries now come via e-mail. The automated phone system is still available 24 hours a day with live assistance from 7:30 a.m. to midnight (Eastern). We were advised that the best times to call are from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. to midnight.

It is important to know that the NVC no longer accepts correspondence or submissions by fax. The NVC recommends that attorney/representative inquiries be e-mailed to The legal representative must have either a G-28 or attorney letterhead on file for the case. The subject line of the e-mail should be the relevant NVC case number. All inquiries should include the case number, the name and date of birth of both the petitioner and the beneficiary, the agency or firm name, address, and the representative's full name.

Additional Information Provided. The following information was also provided during the tour and question and answer session:

  • The NVC runs a report to determine if a beneficiary will turn 21 within 120 days. A case will be expedited automatically if a child is due to age out and cannot benefit under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). For other situations where the applicant or petitioner is requesting that the case be expedited, the NVC will send the request to the consular post for a determination if the situation warrants expeditious processing.
  • If there is a question or challenge as to whether a beneficiary is eligible for benefits under the CSPA, the NVC will send the question to the appropriate consular post. The post is given 30 days to respond and make a determination of benefits under CSPA. During the 30-day period, the NVC will not proceed with processing of other family members.
  • The NVC reminded attendees that original or certified copies of civil documents are now required. Occasionally, when representatives receive a duplicate request for a civil document, it is because the first one sent was not the true original. A certified copy must come from the appropriate civil authority and not just a photocopy certified by an attorney or a consular representative from the country in question.
  • If a payment instruction letter with fee bills is sent by the NVC for someone who will adjust status, please notify NVC as soon as possible.
  • Currently the DS-230 Part I and Part II that are downloadable from the Department of State website are only in the English language. There are no plans to make these forms available in other languages. Applicants should not use old forms that were provided by the consulates in their native language. Only the forms downloadable from the website should be used.
  • The payment instruction letter and fee bills are now being sent out approximately six to nine months prior to when the visa is estimated to become available. The NVC would like to be notified if there is a case where the visa is available or almost available and no correspondence has been received from the NVC.
  • Immigrant visa fees remain valid as long as the case remains active. If fees have been paid but the applicant is unable to travel, he or she will not have to resubmit fees unless the case has gone into the termination process.
  • If an immigrant visa interview must be rescheduled, the applicant will have to deal directly with the consular post. The NVC no longer has a role in the processing after the original appointment has been scheduled.
  • The NVC does not check the accuracy of the translation of documents from a foreign language into English.
  • If sending a G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance, for the first time to be added to a case, it must include an original signature. The NVC will not accept a scanned G-28.

About The Author

Kristina A. Karpinski, a CLINIC staff attorney, graduated in Washington School of Law of The American University (Juris Doctor). She currently provides direct immigration legal services to low-income clients in the Boston area and trainings in immigration law to CLINIC’s member agencies such as Boston Catholic Charities, as well as many other community-based organizations. Since 1999, Ms. Karpinski has expanded her role as a local and national trainer. In 2004, she gave 15 trainings in 9 sites on such topics as citizenship and naturalization, and immigration program management among others. Previously, she worked as an associate with Wildes and Weinberg and as a staff attorney with the Catholic Migration Office of Brooklyn, New York. She is a member of the New York State and Connecticut State Bars.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.