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The U.S. Department of State operates U.S. embassies and consulates outside the United States and is responsible for screening applicants for U.S. visas. The State Department conducts various security and background checks on every applicant for a visa. These standard checks are normally conducted within the framework of the regular visa processing time. However, a visa applicant’s country of origin, field of study or other factors may subject the applicant to a higher degree of scrutiny and additional security procedures. These extended security checks may require longer than average processing time before a visa may be issued. This can lengthen the visa processing time by weeks or even months.
The types of extended security checks below are initiated only by the Department of State and therefore only affect students and dependents who apply for new visas outside the United States. These procedures do not affect those who do not travel outside the United States or those who travel using an existing, valid visa. International students and their dependents who intend to travel outside the United States and who will apply for a new visa before returning should be aware of these procedures and how they may affect their travel plans.
Who is Subject?
The Department of State does not maintain a public resource that lists the specific triggers for the various types of extended background checks. This makes it difficult to predict which applicants will be subject in all cases. However, previously published resources and the resources that remain available to the public may be used to establish the following general advisory on who may expect to be subject to a more extensive security check.
- Both males and females may be subject to extended security checks. Though a particular type of check does specify that males between the ages of 16 and 45 from certain countries are subject, anyone may be subject to this and other types of extended security checks at the discretion of a U.S. consular officer.
- Applicants at any academic level may be subject to extended background checks. Though available guidance refers to students at the doctoral level, masters and even undergraduate students have been subject to certain types of extended security checks.
- Applicants who will study or who have studied or worked directly or indirectly in sensitive areas of research or technology may be subject to extended security checks. Though no specific list of fields of study is available to the public, previously published resources indicate that areas of interest may include Conventional Munitions; Nuclear Technology; Rocket Systems, Rocket System and Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) Subsystems; Navigation, Avionics and Flight Control Usable in Rocket Systems and Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV); Chemical, Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering; Remote Sensing; Imaging and Reconnaissance; Advanced Computer/Microelectronic Technology; Materials Technology; Information Security; Laser and Directed Energy Systems Technology; Sensors and Sensor Technology; Marine Technology; Robotics or Urban Planning.
- Important note: Visa applicants in the above fields of endeavor who are citizens of any of the following countries are automatically subject to an extended security check: Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
- Applicants from China, India, Israel, Pakistan or Russia who are or ever were involved directly or indirectly in activities related to nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or missile proliferation are likely to be subject to an extended security check.
- Any applicant for a visa whose intent is determined by a U.S. consular officer to be to enter the U.S. to violate or evade U.S. laws prohibiting the export of goods, technology, and/or sensitive information may be subject to extended security checks.
How Security Checks are Conducted
There are several types of extended security checks that may cause an application for a visa to take longer than the standard processing time posted by the consulate. There are FBI Name checks, MANTIS and CONDOR clearances, Security Advisory Opinions (SAO’s) and others. Each of these checks involves varying levels of investigation by a variety of government agencies who conduct the security check in Washington, D.C. while the visa applicant waits outside the United States. Though the U.S. consulate initiates the procedure, neither the consulate nor the Department of State has any influence over the results or the time the process may take to complete. Similarly, neither ISSA, your academic department, nor any part of the University of Notre Dame may have any influence on the process. An extended security check may not be expedited or cancelled once it has begun.
How to Prepare
It is not possible in all cases to control whether or not an applicant is subject to an extended security check. However, students who are prepared to provide relevant information to address a U.S. consular officer’s concerns during the interview may avoid an extended security check. Students are advised to have and be ready to present the following materials to the officer:
- Resume and/or Curriculum Vitae.
- List of any publications that you authored or to which you have contributed.
- Letter from your academic department at Notre Dame detailing your study, research or work here.*
- Letter from previous employer(s) or professor(s) detailing your study, research or work.*
*These materials should state to the extent possible that the research or work in which you were involved has no military applications, particularly if your area of research may be considered “dual-use” technology.
The materials above are intended to provide the clearest possible description of your study or research work to the consular officer. This may enable the officer to determine that you are not a threat to U.S. security and that an extended security check is not necessary in cases in which the officer has discretion. If the officer determines that an extended security check is necessary or required by law, the additional materials will more clearly define your research/work within your visa application which should enable the agencies conducting the security check to conduct it more quickly and accurately.
Students who intend to travel who may be subject to an extended security check prior to their return to campus should further prepare by communicating with all appropriate campus offices prior to departure.
- Notify ISSA. This will enable you to obtain additional information about the process and ensure that you have prepared yourself as much as possible for the interview and to discuss options in the event of an unexpected outcome or a delay.
- Notify your academic department. This will enable you and your advisor to discuss how you might work together to accommodate any delays in your return to campus. This is especially important for research or teaching assistants, whose unexpected absence may seriously impact ongoing research and teaching assignments within the department.
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