PIMS (Petition Information Management Service) is an electronic system that provides U.S. consular posts with notification of nonimmigrant visa petition approvals. It is the only source of petition approval evidence used in the issuance of visas in H, L, O, P and Q nonimmigrant visa classifications. A visa applicant may not be issued a visa until the consular post is able to verify the petition approval in PIMS.

In order for the petition approval to exist in the PIMS system, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sends to the U.S. State Department’s Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) a duplicate original of the nonimmigrant visa petition filed by the petitioner with USCIS. The KCC then records the petition approval in the PIMS system. If the petition approval has not been recorded in PIMS, the consular posts must communicate with KCC and often visa application process is delayed.

In March 2008, after many applicants experienced delays at consular posts, USCIS and the State Department (DOS) realizes that changes of status petitions, extension of stay petitions, and amended petitions were not being entered into the PIMS system. DOS was under the mistaken assumption that USCIS forwarded all petitions to the KCC when the reality was that USCIS forwarded only those petitions that specifically requested "consular notification." To resolve this issue, USCIS started to ask petitioners to submit duplicate, originally signed petitions with their petitions for extensions, changes of status or amendments. Upon approving a petition, USCIS now forwards this duplicate original to the KCC for entry into PIMS.

While this new process has for the most part solved the problems for the petitions submitted to USCIS after March 2008, there is still the matter of the petitions filed prior to this March guidance. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, DOS has instructed all consular posts to implement procedures by which PIMS is checked before the visa interview in an effort to decrease delays. For example, many posts require the petition receipt number in order to schedule an interview. Thus, these posts should be able to check PIMS and query the KCC, if necessary, before the applicant even arrives at the consular post for his or her interview. While this is a step in the right direction, we would still caution visa applicants (particularly those whose extension, change of status or amended petitions were approved before late March 2008 or if the petitioner did not file a duplicate original with USCIS) that visa issuance could be delayed.

Finally, DOS has updated its website to confirm that "the I-797 is no longer needed for the visa applicant's interview, since petition approval is now verified in the Department of State's system called Petition Information Management Service (PIMS)." Please note that while DOS has adopted this procedure, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) has not. Applicants applying for admission at a port-of-entry may still be required to have an original (Form I-797) approval notice issued by USCIS.