New Security Clearances for Visa Processing

THE VISA ANIMALS: Visa Processing at Consulates Abroad

July 26, 2011

Changes in Visa Application Procedures

On August 1, 2003 the United States Consular Posts made dramatic changes to Visa Application procedures. In the past, applicants were originally allowed to send their information by mail or through a courier (or travel) service, and then received their passport with a visa stamp by mail. This process was short and efficient, but has now changed. Effective January 2004 consulates now require most visa applicants to appear in person for an interview with a consular officer. It is important to note that these interviews are by appointment and can only be made by a telephone from within the country where the consulate is located. The interview can only occur AFTER the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has already approved the non-immigrant petition. Typically, these interview appointments can take one to three weeks to schedule.

New Security Clearances

In order to determine if a visa applicant is even admissible into the U.S. at the first instance, the applicant’s name and biographical information are processed through an Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) security check. A “hit” within the IBIS security databases means that the consulate must investigate and clear the “hit” before a visa can be issued. In addition to the IBIS security check, the Department of State has implemented a security clearance program for issuing visas in certain circumstances, known as “VISA ANIMALS.” These clearance programs require consulates to contact the Department of State or another federal agency, possibly adding weeks or months to the visa application processing time.

The various “VISA ANIMAL” clearances are defined as follows:

  1. VISA EAGLE: This clearance applies to individuals who have ties (work experience, residency, birth, or affiliation) to one of the countries designated to be state sponsors of terrorism, listed in the Border Security Act. These countries include Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Visa Eagle requests are transmitted directly to the interested Washington agencies and do not come to the attention of a departmental officer unless negative information is produced in the process. Visa Eagle name checks are valid for only one year, but consular officers can extend this period upon their discretion.
  2. VISA DONKEY: This clearance applies to individuals who have ties (work experience, residency, birth, or affiliation) to one of the countries designated to be state sponsors of terrorism, included within the Border Security Act. Visa Donkey checks are used when a post is requesting departmental action or information on a visa case requiring a name check.
  3. VISA MANTIS:Visa Mantis applies to individuals who are subject to the Technology Alert List (TAL). This list is responsible for the most dramatic delays in non-immigrant visa processing. Delays associated with this procedure can range from two to eight months. The TAL was created over concerns that an illegal transfer of controlled technology (or activities) may impact or become detrimental to Unites States national security. The main goal of the TAL is to stop the potential growth and development of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) within the previously listed terrorist states. The Visa Mantis clearance affects primarily non-immigrant workers in biotech and healthcare fields, but can also impact a number of fields that would not appear to affect U.S National Security, such as landscaping, community housing, and marine acoustics. Visa Mantis is essentially a name-check procedure used for U.S Government-sponsored visa applicants (areas may include: business, education, training, and scientific exchange programs) that fall under the scope of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as applicants involved in the fields listed in the TAL. There are two steps involved in determining if a visa request must be subject to the Visa Mantis program:
    • The consular officer must determine whether or not the applicant’s activities in the U.S would involve exposure to any of the technologies listed in the TAL; and
    • If an applicant is from a country of state sponsored terrorism, a consular officer must assume that their visit may provide exposure to one of the technologies listed on the TAL. However, current U.S activity dictates if the applicant will be subject to the Mantis security clearance, and oftentimes the clearance will extend to citizens and nationals that enjoy friendly relations with the United States. During the time a visa application is processed, the applicant must remain outside the United States.
  4. VISA CONDOR Some applicants, in addition to the Visa Mantis, check fall under the Visa Condor program, which was developed in January 2002 for counter terrorism purposes. The program ensures that nationals of specific countries matching specified criteria are subject to a security review.
  5. LIST OF 26 All non-immigrant visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of the listed 26 countries are subject to additional security requirements in every area of the visa application process. The listed countries are: Afghanistan; Algeria; Bahrain; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Libya; Malaysia; Morocco; Oman; Pakistan; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Somalia; Sudan; Syria; Tunisia; Turkey; United Arab Emirates; and Yemen. The additional security clearance can take 20 days or longer to process. Please keep in mind that the State Department can require this security clearance for any visa applicant.
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Items covered under the TAL are the following:

The Technology Alert List (TAL)

  1. CONVENTIONAL MUNITIONS:
    • Warheads
    • Explosives
    • Other Large Caliber Projectiles
  2. NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY:
    • Nuclear physics and/or nuclear engineering used in the development of nuclear materials for both peaceful and military applications
  3. ROCKET SYSTEMS:
    • Ballistic Missile Systems
    • Unmanned Air Vehicles
    • Space launch vehicles
  4. ROCKET SYSTEMS AND UNMANNED AIR VEHICLE SUBSYSTEMS
    • Propulsion technologies
    • Solid rocket motor stages
    • Liquid propellant engines
    • Re-entry vehicles
    • Guidance sets
    • Thrust vector controls
    • Warhead arming technologies
  5. NAVIGATION, AVIONICS AND FLIGHT CONTROL USEABLE IN ROCEKT SYSTEMS AND UNMANNED AIR VEHICLES:
    • Internal navigation systems
    • Accelerometers and gyroscopes
    • Flight control systems
    • Global positioning systems
  6. CHEMICAL, BIOTECHNICAL AND BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING:
    • Biochemistry
    • Microbiology
    • Pharmacology
    • Virology
    • Bacteriology
    • Mycology
    • Toxicology
    • Genetic engineering
    • Recombinant DNA technology
    • Pathogenecity
    • Microencapsulation
    • Chemical engineering
    • Neurochemistry
    • Pharmaceutical production technology
  7. REMOTE SENSING, IMAGING, AND RECONNAISSANCE
    • Remote sensing satellites
    • High resolution radar
    • Imagery instruments
    • Photogrammetry
  8. ADVANCED COMPUTER/MICROELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGY:
    • Supercomputing
    • Speech Processing Systems
    • Neural Networks
    • Data Fusion
    • Quantum wells
    • Superconductivity
    • Optoelectronics
    • Acoustic wave devices
    • Superconducting electronic devices
    • Flash discharge type X-ray systems
    • Frequency synthesizers
    • Microcomputer compensated crystal oscillators
  9. MATERIALS TECHNOLOGY
    • High performance metals
    • Alloys
    • Ceramics associated with military applications
  10. INFORMATION SECURITY:
    • Cryptography
    • Cryptographic systems
  11. LASER AND DIRECTED ENERGY SYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY:
    • High and low energy laser
    • Directed and kinetic energy systems
    • Optoelectronics
  12. SENSORS AND SENSOR TECHNOLOGY:
  13. MARINE TECHNOLOGY
  14. ROBOTICS
  15. URBAN PLANNING
    • Architecture
    • Civil engineering
    • Community development
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