The U.S. Department of State’s Consular Consolidated Database (CCD), a system critical to visa issuance operations, is continuing to experience technical problems, which is limiting the State Department’s visa processing capacity. As a result, are widespread delays in nonimmigrant visa issuance worldwide. In conjunction with the Department of State (DOS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has indicated that in order to ease the situation, it will exercise its legal authority to waive nonimmigrant visa requirements for admission on a case-by-case basis.
CBP and DOS have provided the following information regarding the procedures that are being put in place to assist individuals who have applied for but have not been issued nonimmigrant visas due to ongoing CCD problems:
- A nonimmigrant visa applicant whose U.S. travel is urgent because it either involves an “emergency” or impacts U.S. national interests, may request consideration for special travel permission to the United States if their visa issuance is delayed as a result CCD systems problems.
- “Emergencies” in this instance include urgent humanitarian travel and life-and-death situations.
- Upcoming business engagements and U.S. employment needs are not typically considered humanitarian emergencies and likely will not be considered as such in most cases. They may, however, be considered on a case-by-case basis.
- DOS and CBP joint task force teams will confer on a 24/7 basis, regarding individual emergency travel requests in order to process such requests as expeditiously as possible.
- Travel permission, if approved jointly by DOS and CBP, will be facilitated by DOS. The consular post that accepted the visa application will release the traveler’s passport and will issue a transportation letter, which can be presented to common carriers to allow boarding of international U.S.-bound flights. Upon arrival to a U.S. port of entry and presentation of the transportation letter, CBP will execute an I-193 application to waive the nonimmigrant visa requirement for admission. This will include waiving the $585 processing fee for the I-193.
- Individuals requesting emergency travel must have a pending visa application with DOS, and the visa must be issuable but for CCD system problems. Applicants who have been issued a 221(g) notice indicating pending administrative processing on their visa applications are not eligible to request emergency travel accommodations.
- DOS may not directly inform visa applicants whether or not the delay in visa issuance is the result of CCD problems. Those who have emergency U.S. travel needs should affirmatively communicate with DOS to provide proof of their circumstances. This can occur during the visa interview, or through e-mails after visa appointments to consular mailboxes or facilitation centers (whichever is the preferred method of communication for each individual consular post, as stated on its website).
- If a request for emergency travel is not approved and facilitated by DOS, CBP strongly discourages petition-based applicants from traveling to the United States of their own accord using a visitor’s visa or Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) registration. CBP sent guidance to all ports of entry regarding the above-referenced procedures and will only consider CCD-related I-193 waiver through its joint interface with DOS. Individual requests made at ports of entry will be referred back to DOS. If an applicant is found to have previously requested travel permission that was not granted by DOS, it will be a significantly negative factor and could result in denial of the applicant’s I-193 request.
Currently reported on DOS website: “We have made significant progress and issued most of the worldwide backlog of nonimmigrant visa cases. We are working to bring the Consular Consolidated Database back to full operational capacity. We continue to prioritize immigrant visas, adoption cases, and emergency nonimmigrant visa cases. We are printing visas for these cases and all cases with very few delays. Please check with the embassy or consulate where you will apply for additional information. Please see our FAQs for more information.”
From DOS’ FAQs: “Q: What is the outlook for NIVs [NonImmigrant Visas]? When do we estimate the backlog will be processed? A: Current efforts are focused on restoring the system to normal operations, while continuing to adjudicate new applications. We are committed to reducing the number of pending visa cases as quickly as possible. Applicants should anticipate that visa issuance may be delayed 10-14 days until the system is restored to full functionality and pending applications are printed.”
Since the CCD system continues to function in a limited state, travelers should expect delays in the issuance of visas and U.S. passports, and should plan accordingly.
Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or firstname.lastname@example.org.