Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs) are created in response to a request by a U.S. embassy or consulate for a background security check on a foreign national who is applying for a U.S. visa.
When a foreign national applies for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad, the applicant’s name is run through a name-check system referred to as the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS). Any existing issues in an applicant’s background that may impact eligibility for a visa (such as an arrest, a conviction, or an overstay that is known to the U.S. government) cause the applicant’s name to be flagged for the consulate’s attention.
What triggers a request for an SAO? A U.S. consulate has the discretion to request an SAO regardless of whether or not the applicant’s name is flagged in CLASS. However, U.S. consulates will always request SAOs in the following circumstances:
- the applicant's name is flagged in CLASS;
- an applicant received an unfavorable SAO in the past;
- the applicant is a national of a country not recognized by the United States or with which the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations;
- the interviewing U.S. consular officer has knowledge or a reasonable ground to believe that the applicant is ineligible for admission to the United States because of national security concerns (for example, the consular officer believes that the applicant might be involved in the transfer of sensitive technology designated by the Department of State (DOS)’s Technology Alert List (TAL)); or
- the applicant is a national or employee of a State Sponsor of Terrorism (Cuba, Iran, Sudan, or Syria). In addition to the above triggers, applicants who are citizens of, born in, or have some strong connection to certain countries are also subject to an SAO.
The length of time that an SAO takes to clear depends on the type of security clearance that is requested by the U.S. consulate. There are nine types of SAOs. Most relevant to non-immigrant visa applicants are the Visas Mantis, Visas Donkey, Visas Eagle, and Visas Condor SAOs. Please click here for additional information about the various types of SAOs.
The question that often arises among individuals who have been subject to an SAO in the past is whether or not the clearance received can be reused for future travel. The guidance on this subject is mixed. However, the bottom line is that the U.S. consular officer has discretion to request an SAO for anyone and is obligated to make such a request in the above listed circumstances.