Visa Appointments (Interview) at a U.S. Consulate
The Visa Interview is Not ‘Just the Last Step’
We often hear clients dismiss the visa interview at the U.S. consulate as just the last step, as though everything was done and approved up to that point, and so, of course, the consulate will “stamp” the passport. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
Many people have their immigration status approved from within the U.S. by doing a change of status (say from student to H-1B, for one example) or an extension of stay (a renewal of their current status) with USCIS. As a result, that person has the status but not the actual visa. As of now, visas are only issued by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) at a consular post abroad (there’s talk of bringing back visa revalidation by the DOS in Washington, DC, but that hasn’t happened yet). Consequently, so long as that person remains in the U.S. and does not violate their status or change employer, they are fine for the validity period approved. However, if that person ever needs to leave the U.S. for any reason including emergency, work-related reasons, vacation, or any other reason, they will need to obtain an appointment at the appropriate U.S. consulate abroad and receive the actual visa in order to re-enter the U.S.
By the way, State Department officers will be among the first, other than attorneys like me, to criticize the—still—constantly used phrase “visa stamping.” As I’ve personally heard DOS officers say, “we haven’t stamped passports in decades!” There’s no stamping. There’s obtaining the visa in the passport. As people get online and do their own research, they may see comments that an MRV is required. MRV means “machine readable visa,” which is basically what is issued by the U.S. anymore not an old-fashioned stamp. All you need to do to be clear with everyone is talk about obtaining the visa or the visa appointment.
It is important that you are well prepared and have all documents that may be required when you attend the visa interview. The DOS can and does put visa applications into “administrative processing” if anything additional is needed, or they aren’t completely confident about issuing the visa. Administrative processing can be a black hole. It can be hard to get the visa application revived and issued, so it’s important to take the interview seriously and to be well prepared.
Do not leave the U.S. for the visa appointment without doing a review with us. We had one client who believed the visa appointment was ‘just the last step,’ and left without informing us she was leaving the U.S. She had a complicated prior immigration history that we were able to overcome and get the change of status approved by USCIS, but the consular officer was confused, the client hadn’t brought an organized packet including the exact documents the officer wanted, and the officer issued a notice asking for additional documents. The notice revealed the officer’s lack of experience, since what she asked for didn’t even apply to this case. The client was stuck in Africa, and, though we did send all needed documents and a detailed explanation in response to the request, the visa was ultimately denied. We are proud that very rarely happens with our clients! We believe it would have been avoided if the client had worked with us to be prepared to explain the history to the officer herself and present all pertinent documents in an organized packet from the beginning. The employer didn’t care to pursue it, so, since it was an employment-based status dependent on the employer’s petition, the employee was stuck.
The DOS can and does deny visas even when the USCIS has approved the petition. We had an immigrant visa (permanent residence) approved by USCIS, denied by the consulate who returned the file to USCIS saying they thought USCIS was wrong to have approved it. We responded to USCIS why the embassy was wrong and USCIS was right in the first instance. USCIS reaffirmed the petition and returned it to the embassy. The same guy at the embassy denied it again for the same reason and returned it to USCIS a second time. After getting USCIS HQ in DC involved, I was on a phone call with someone from headquarters who told me, “We have three of our lawyers on this.” I explained what I thought the confusion was, why it was approvable and where the embassy was going wrong. I also indicated we’d take the issue to federal court. The next morning, she called me back saying they’d returned the file to the embassy, “with instructions to issue the visa.” In 30 years, that’s the only time that’s happened, though there have certainly been times when consulates deny the visa and return the petition to USCIS. Although we typically respond and get the petition reaffirmed and returned to the consulate, that process can take multiple months!
It is definitely in your best interest to take the visa appointment seriously and be prepared.