When your employee applies for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, keep in mind possible (and sometimes unforeseen) delays due to what the U.S. government calls "administrative processing."

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) website offers a helpful "Visa Wait Times" list here. The posted Visa Wait Times indicate the usual number of days it is now taking a particular U.S. embassy or consulate to schedule a visa interview/appointment for your employee, issue the requested nonimmigrant visa, and return the applicant's passport to him or her.

However, you and your employee should realize that not all visa applications go through the process without delay. While, with fastidious preparation, an applicant can often avoid delays stemming from forgetting a document, presenting an inadequate set of documents, or presenting incorrect or incomplete information that triggers either a denial or a field investigation, there is one factor that is largely beyond your employee's control. U.S. consular officers can issue a "provisional" (temporary) denial based upon "administrative processing."

Administrative processing can mean many things, but in most simplest terms, it means that the U.S. government has determined that some sort of additional security check or other clearance is necessary before the visa can be issued. Various factors can lead to such additional check, including but not limited to:

  1. the company requiring, or individual possessing, education or experience in a discipline such as nuclear technology, supercomputers, global positioning systems, etc. that appears on the U.S. government's technology alert list and that triggers the consular officer's decision to seek extra security clearances;
  2. the applicant's past arrest or conviction for an offense; or
  3. a "hit" that results from some government data mining (such as your employee's name being similar to someone who is on a watch list, a prior address being the same building as someone of interest to the government, etc.)

If administrative processing occurs -- which is more common now due to the Northwest/Delta incident and the earlier issuance of a U.S. visa to the alleged terrorist who was on one of the government's lower grade lists -- you and your employee can expect a delay in visa issuance for anywhere from two weeks to several months.

While your employee cannot generally do anything to avoid administrative processing and while the U.S. government will, absent extraordinary circumstances, not short-circuit the usual time frames for this extra processing to be completed, you and your employee can take a few steps to minimize the inconvenience if the U.S. government triggers administrative processing:

  1. Alert your employee's manager that he or she is applying for a U.S. visa and the possibility of delay if a security check complication ensues so the manager is not surprised;
  2. Have a Plan B available that enables your employee to live and work abroad if his or her return is delayed due to administrative processing; and
  3. Recommend that your employee purchase airline ticket insurance so that if he or she has to change the U.S.-bound return flight, he or she does not face a substantial penalty when booking a new flight.