With visa interview appointments at the U.S. consulates abroad still limited due to COVID-19 backlogs, sponsored employees need to be as well-prepared as possible to avoid a visa denial at the visa window.
To answer some questions employers may have and help employees plan their visa stamping strategy, here are some steps to consider before departing the United States:
- Ensure employees always contact HR or their immigration contact before booking any travel. Due to limited visa appointment availability, it is critical to work with your sponsored employee and understand the travel dates and likely timeframe of the visa stamping in order to avoid/manage disruptions in their work.
- Confirm that current job details match with the employee’s latest I-129 filing (if any). Changes in the employee’s job, including promotions, relocations (including remote work), or other material changes may require a new filing with the Immigration Service prior to departure from the United States. Contact an immigration attorney if unsure.
- The employee should complete the DS-160 and book a visa appointment on the website of the U.S. consulate they intend to visit. The consulate website will have easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. Visa appointments can be booked months in advance, and their availability varies greatly by country. Employees should have their appointment scheduled and confirmed before making their travel plans or purchasing plane tickets.
- Some applicants may be eligible for visa appointments that do not require in-person interviews. The procedure and qualifications vary by consulate and visa type, but this option is generally limited to individuals who have had a visa that expired within the last 4 years.
- Direct your employee to review the DS-160 application information with you or outside immigration counsel to confirm the information is correct and that they are able to clearly state their current role and employment details.
Completing the DS-160:
- The online DS-160 is the basic application document for all visa interviews. This is the document the consular officer will see when your employee appears for their visa interview and represents the first impression the officer will have. It is therefore critical to provide the officer with the underlying facts of the employee's case so the officer is able to document them quickly and efficiently.
- The employee should complete the form and answer all questions truthfully and as completely as possible. The consular officer will ask questions to corroborate the information on the DS-160, and so it is critical your employee is familiar with the document and understands each item. If you or they ever have hesitation about a particular question, consult with your immigration attorney for assistance.
- Note: Each applicant, including spouses and minor children, needs to have their own DS-160.
What to bring to a consular interview:
- Visa appointment confirmation page and DS-160 confirmation page. This shows a barcode and the employee's DS-160 confirmation number, which will allow the consular team to easily access case details.
- Passport, including the prior passport if the employee has a prior visa. The passport should have at least six months of remaining validity.
- Two (2) current passport photos.
- Any other documentation specifically requested on the website of the consulate where the appointment is scheduled.
- Current letter of employment or three recent payslips. The employment letter should confirm that your employee is or will be working for your company, including their title and a point of contact for additional information.
- Current petition. If your employee has a petition-based visa (H-1B, individual L-1, O-1, or P visa), they should bring a copy of their current petition and confirm their petition information still matches their role. Promotions, relocations, or other changes in employment should be discussed in advance with an immigration attorney and may necessitate an updated filing.
- Relevant supporting documentation. The officer is unlikely to review large quantities of documentation at the interview, however there can be critical pieces of information they need to corroborate. For employee dependents, it is best to bring original marriage and birth certificates. For treaty investors (E visas), the officer may need current corporate documentation.
What the officer will ask your employee:
- Consular officers typically have about 2 minutes to interview and adjudicate each visa case. Given this tight timeframe, the officers are forced to be brief and may seem abrupt or unfriendly.
- The officer will ask questions about your employee’s work, such as questions about their current position, employer details, or past employment.
- The officer may ask questions about prior travel to the U.S. or other matters pertinent to your employee’s personal background.
- Your employee should answer questions truthfully and completely, avoiding one-word answers or rambling. Forcing the officer to repeat questions or sift through extraneous information can frustrate the process. Focus on giving succinct answers that provide the necessary information.
- Remember: It is OK for your employee to ask questions of the visa officer to clarify if they do not understand a question. It is better to get clarification than to hope they are answering correctly. It is also OK to ask about the timeframe for receiving their visa issuance. However, employees should not ask visa officers for legal advice about their visa application or other aspects of their overall immigration case.
- The officer will make a decision on your employee’s case. The three potential decisions are:
- Approval. Your employee will be issued their vis Your employee can ask about processing time for return of their passport with the new visa stamp in it. In most countries the passport is returned within a few business days. If the employee has imminent travel plans, they should bring a copy of their flight itinerary and request that their passport be returned in time to facilitate their travel. The visa officer has discretion to honor this request or not.
- Denial. Your employee’s passport will be returned, and the officer will provide a letter providing the reason for the refusal. While your employee may question the officer to ensure they understand the reason for the refusal, they should avoid arguing with the officer. Your employee should immediately contact you to provide a detailed explanation of what the officer said and a copy of the refusal letter. You should consult with an immigration attorney to consider options and next steps.
- Administrative processing/221(g). Your employee’s case has been flagged for additional review, and the consular officer will provide a letter stating the case has been refused under Section 221(g) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA). See below for more information.
221(g) findings and administrative processing:
- The consular officer may temporarily refuse a case under INA section 221(g), which allows an officer to refuse a case for insufficient information. Unlike other refusals, a refusal under 221(g) is temporary in nature and means that the officer may either approve or deny the visa once their additional review is complete.
- A 221(g) refusal can be referred to as “administrative processing” and typically means that the officer needs additional information or needs to review your employee’s case in more depth in order to make a final decision.
- The officer may require additional detail from your employee, which they will explicitly request in the refusal letter at the interview.
- Absent a request for additional documentation, the officer will review the case, potentially consulting with their supervisor or with the main Department of State offices in Washington, D.C.
- Administrative processing timeframes vary greatly from a few days, a few months, or even a year or more.
- Consult with an immigration attorney for additional context about your employee’s particular situation.
Summarizing things to remember in the visa interview process:
- Ensure your employees contact you in advance of any travel planning.
- Complete the DS-160 completely and truthfully, making sure the employee is fully aware and comfortable with all relevant information.
- Book the visa appointment before making any travel plans.
- Check that your employee has all relevant documentation.
- Confirm your employee can speak clearly about their current role and your company details.
- Your employee will attend the interview and answer all questions as truthfully and completely as possible, avoiding one-word answers or rambling.
- Your employee should listen carefully to the officer’s decision on the case, asking questions to understand the next steps and timeframe.
- Contact your employee following the interview to understand the officer’s decision and gather details if the visa was not immediately approved.
- Consult with an immigration attorney to ensure your employee has the greatest chance of a successful visa interview.