9 FAM 601.6

(U) Maintaining Visa Files, Records, and Information

(CT:VISA-708;   11-14-2018)
(Office of Origin:  CA/VO/L/R)

9 FAM 601.6-1  (U) visa-related files, records and information

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

(U) See 7 FAH-1 H-450 for additional information on consular files and records.

9 FAM 601.6-1(A)  (U) Visa Case Files

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) Case Files:  Case files contain material relating to specific individual cases.  Material in a case file should be arranged in chronological order, with the most recent item on top.

b. (U) Case files are indexed through the NIV and IV automated applications.

c.  (U) Paperless Files:

(1)  (U) The introduction of the Form DS-160, Electronic Application for Nonimmigrant Visa, and the Form DS-260, Online Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, has significantly reduced the requirement for posts to maintain paper files of visa records.  Some posts will continue to maintain some historic paper files, although the trend is towards more efficiently stored and retrieved “paperless” filesImplementation of the Modernized Immigrant Visa (MIV) program began the transition to fully electronic processing of immigrant visas.

(2)  (U) The large size of many visa records, particularly IV cases, makes it particularly important that posts adhere strictly to records disposition guidelines. 

(a)  (U) NIV Files:  For NIV cases, the consular officer must return to the applicant all documents submitted by the applicant which were not pertinent to the refusal or indicative of possible ineligibility.  Letters and other documents addressed to an officer or the post should be retained and either scanned into CCD or destroyed with the refusal file in accordance with the Foreign Records Disposition Schedule for Visa Service.  See 9 FAM 601.6-2 for additional guidance on handling NIV case files and records.

(b)  (U) IV and DV Files:  Posts retain no paper record of immigrant visas issued.  All records for issued cases are retained in CCD.  Documents retained in pending, inactive, and refused cases should be pared to the minimum necessary under regulation, and case files should be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as provided for in the Records Disposition Schedule.  See 9 FAM 601.6-3 for guidance on handling IV and DV case files and records.

(3)  (U) Scanning Records:  Instructions on scanning NIV and IV records are provided in 9 FAM 601.6-4.

d. (U) Paper Files:

(1)  (U) Case files are generally organized and located by function and type.  In a small consular section, all active cases might be filed together while in a larger one they might be separated by function (NIV, IV or DV; issuance; type of refusal; etc.). 

(a)  (U) NIV Files:  Issued NIV application files and 214(b) and 221(g) refusal files are generally batched in chronological order.  See 9 FAM 601.6-2 for additional guidance on handling NIV case files and records. 

(b)  (U) IV and DV Files:  At most posts, IV cases are now filed sequentially using the National Visa Center (NVC) assigned case number.  See 9 FAM 601.6-3 for guidance on handling IV and DV case files and records.

(2)  (U) Employees responsible for filing must be thoroughly familiar with the English alphabet to avoid misfiling and the consequential loss of case records.

9 FAM 601.6-1(B)  A-Z Files

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

a. (U) Posts must establish an A-Z case file for papers related to a visa applicant that arrive at post prior to the creation of the electronic file and which cannot be given or returned to the applicant for personal retention.  These cases are usually filed in alphabetical order and therefore sometimes referred to as A-Z files.

b. (U) See 9 FAM 303.2 for guidance on how to properly alphabetize A-Z files (naming conventions).

9 FAM 601.6-1(C)  (U) Visa Subject Files

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) Visa Subject Files - Introduction:

(1)  (U) Each visa-issuing office should maintain subject files (CVIS files) relating to general visa operations, programs, policies, procedures, or concepts.  The subject files must conform to the instructions provided in 5 FAH-3, TAGS/Terms Handbook and should be arranged alphabetically as stated in 5 FAH-3 (see also paragraph b below).

(2)  (U) Subject files are important references for policy, precedent, and procedural information that are not codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual.  Subject files are used to store information that is general in application rather than specific to an individual case.  This may include ALDACs and other cables about laws, regulations, procedures, and reporting requirements; correspondence with local authorities; and internal memoranda about policy and procedures.  Copies or extracts of information regarding individual cases that contain useful policy or precedent information of general application may also be filed in a subject file.

(3)  (U) A separate similar subject file must be maintained for classified materials.  (See 9 FAM 601.6-1(F).)  A cross-reference to the existence of a classified file must be prominently placed in the corresponding unclassified subject or case file to ensure that classified information is not overlooked.

b. (U) Subject File Divisions and Subdivisions:

(1)  (U) Organization of Subject Files:  Subject files are organized using TAGS and TERMS, as outlined in 5 FAH-3, the TAGS/Terms Handbook.  The seven consular TAGS (see 5 FAH-3 H-111.3) provide the broad classification while primary subdivisions are identified using TERMS.  Further subdivisions under TERMS are made using secondary or tertiary terms.  Persons responsible for filing policy, precedent, and procedural information need to be thoroughly familiar with the TAGS/TERMS system to ensure information is identified and filed effectively; in other words, so that it can be found when needed.  Copies of some ALDACS or other records covering more than one subject may need to be filed in more than one place (or clearly cross-referenced) to ensure that the information is readily available as needed.

(2)  (U) Use of File Dividers:  Posts should use file dividers to set apart subjects that require subdivisions, such as IMMIGRANT, INELIGIBILITY, and NONIMMIGRANT.  A breakdown of folders might consist of the following subject areas:

(a)  (U) IMMIGRANT, with secondary terms such as CONDITIONAL, SPECIAL, EMPLOYMENT-BASED FIRST PREFERENCE, etc.;

(b)  (U) INELIGIBILITY, with separate folders for the individual grounds, - (1), (2), (3), etc., - or generic grounds, - CRIMINAL, MEDICAL, SECURITY, etc.; and

(c)  (U) NONIMMIGRANT, with a breakdown of business, student, visitor, etc.

(3)  (U) Secondary Terms:  Using more than one secondary term may be necessary to refine the files further.  As stated above, the dividers would be marked IMMIGRANT, INELIGIBILITY, and NONIMMIGRANT.  The folders within those areas of the files would bear both the primary term and the secondary term or terms, making it easier to return guidance material folders to the files.

c.  (U) Creating Visa Subject File Folders: 

(1)  (U) No Empty Folders:  The subject file should not have any empty folders.  Posts should set up a folder only if or when guidance material in some form is received (for example, a guidance telegram or a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) memorandum written for the files by a supervising officer).

(2)  (U) Limiting Subject Files to Guidance Materials:  The Department emphasizes that, while communications concerning individual cases will use the same primary and secondary terms, posts should file only communications containing guidance for general use in the CVIS subject file; i.e., copies of communications regarding individual cases which contain information of general application might be filed in subject files.

d. (U) Retention of Material in Subject Files: 

(1)  (U) The material in the general visa subject file should be retained for as long as it serves a useful purpose.  Although some cables technically expire 30 days from date of issuance, posts should retain such materials until they are superseded by Change Transmittals (formerly Transmittal Letters or TLs) incorporating the guidance material into 9 FAM as appropriate.  Posts may remove cancelled communications from their subject folders either at that time or during the next annual review of files material.

(2)  (U) Posts must retain copies of treaties and reciprocal agreements and all communications amending or interpreting them as long as the treaty or agreement is in effect.

9 FAM 601.6-1(D)  (U) Chronological (Chron) Files

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

a. (U) A chronological file, commonly known as a chron file, is a temporary file of copies of documents in chronological order that are retained in addition to the originals filed in the subject or case files.  For maximum utility, posts should cross-reference the subject file with these chronological copies.

(1)  (U) Every post should maintain a chron file of all incoming ALDAC telegrams on consular affairs as well as all current local SOPs.

(2)  (U) Maintaining chron files for copies of other communications is optional and may help in locating information when the exact subject file is uncertain.  Posts should avoid routinely keeping chron files for all types of correspondence as maintaining them can actually be more labor intensive.

(3)  (U) Individual consular officers may wish to keep their own chron files of unclassified items (cables, memos, letters, etc.) which they have drafted.  This practice is a useful reference tool at Employee Evaluation Report (EER) time.

b. (U) Visa sections should maintain their own chron files, in addition to the chron files kept in post’s Central Records Unit. 

9 FAM 601.6-1(E)  (U) Administrative Files

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

(U) Administrative files containing operational housekeeping records, such as management controls and consular fee records, operational reports on consular activities, personnel actions, etc., should be filed as Consular Management (CMGT) files rather than CVIS in many cases.

9 FAM 601.6-1(F)  Unavailable

(CT:VISA-708;   11-14-2018)

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9 FAM 601.6-2  (U) storing issued and refused niv records

9 FAM 601.6-2(A)  (U) NIV Files – General Guidance

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) CCD and NIV Files:  Under the retention schedule (Records Disposition Schedule), electronic Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) records are considered to be equivalent to hard copy case files.  The introduction of the Form DS-160, Electronic Application for Nonimmigrant Visa, and the replication of nonimmigrant (NIV) case records into the CCD, has significantly reduced the requirement for posts to maintain paper files of visa records.  

b. (U) NIV Issuance and Refusal Files:  See 9 FAM 601.6-2(C) for information on CAT I NIV refusal files, and 9 FAM 601.6-2(D) for information on CAT II (including 214(b) and 221(g)) NIV refusal files.

c.  (U) NIV Fee-Related Documents:  Posts should retain their copies of applicants’ receipts and DS-160 barcode printouts until posts have performed the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) periodic comparison of fees collected with services provided.  After a monthly, periodic comparison, post may destroy the receipts.  The barcode printouts may be destroyed after the receipt has been properly reconciled.  

d. (U) Scanning NIV Records:  See 9 FAM 601.6-4.

9 FAM 601.6-2(B)  (U) Issued NIV Case Files

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

a. (U) For visa applications submitted using the DS-160, posts should not store the related NIV issuance records as paper files.

b. (U) Any older (pre DS-160) issued NIV paper applications, and their relevant supporting documents, should be scanned into the associated application record in the NIV software (see 9 FAM 601.6-4 for scanning instructions).  Once a cleared American has verified that the paper version is not necessary for legal or audit purposes, posts should then destroy the records.  If post is unable to meet the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) scanning standard, then the files should be sent to the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) only after an officer has determined that the paper versions of the files are not needed for legal or audit purposes (see 9 FAM 601.6-3(E) for shipping instructions).

9 FAM 601.6-2(C)  Unavailable

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

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9 FAM 601.6-2(D)  (U) Category Two NIV Refusal Files

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) 214(b) and 221(g) NIV Refusals:

(1)  (U) For visa applications submitted using the DS-160, posts should not store the related NIV INA 214(b) and INA 221(g) refusal records as paper files.

(2)  (U) For older (pre DS-160) paper 214(b) and 221(g) files presently stored at post, post should retain the case files for one year, and then either scan the file into the associated application record in the NIV software, or contact KCC at KCCpostliaison@state.gov to coordinate shipment of the files to Kentucky (see 9 FAM 601.6-2(E) for shipping instructions).  KCC will prepare the files for transfer to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

b. (U) Other NIV CAT II Refusals:  All other NIV Category II (CAT II) refusal records should be scanned and destroyed at post, as the electronic version of the case will become the sole official version (see B-09-002-06b of the Records Disposition Schedules).  As noted in the disposition schedule, a cleared American needs to verify that the file has been uploaded and is no longer necessary for audit or legal purposes.

9 FAM 601.6-2(E)  Unavailable

(CT:VISA-653;   07-31-2018)

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9 FAM 601.6-2(F)  (U) NIV Paper Record Retrieval From NARA

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) Paper record retrieval is an extraordinary step reserved (in most cases) for response to other agency requests relating to ongoing criminal or terrorist investigations or legal proceedings.  Due to the high cost of paper record retrieval, posts must exercise discretion and are instructed to not request file retrieval for routine fraud program purposes (investigations connected with formal criminal prosecutions are an exception).  Paper DS-156 records are maintained for eleven years from the date of last action.  Older paper records are not available.

b. (U) Record retrieval requests should be sent to CANIV@state.gov by consular officers, who should identify themselves by title and post.  Additionally, the request should include the specific reason why the CCD record is inadequate and why the original paper file must be retrieved.  To facilitate processing, the requester should provide either the applicant's full name and date of birth or the Visa Control Number and place of visa application, or the issued Visa Foil Number.  Posts should specify where to send the copy of the file or request that older paper files be retrieved or scanned into the CCD for quicker access.

c.  (U) When requests are made on behalf of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) or other agencies, in addition to the required information listed above, the originator of the request should be clearly identified in the request email.  Specify whether the retrieved documents need to be certified for submission in a legal proceeding. 

9 FAM 601.6-3  (U) storing issued and refused iv/dv files

9 FAM 601.6-3(A)  (U) IV/DV Files – General Guidance

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) Record Disposition at Post:  The large size of many immigrant visa (IV) records makes it particularly important that posts adhere strictly to records disposition guidelines for these cases.  Posts retain no paper record of immigrant visas issued (see 9 FAM 601.6-3(B)).  Documents retained in pending, inactive and refused cases should be pared to the minimum necessary under regulation, and case files should be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as provided for in the Records Disposition Schedule (see 9 FAM 601.6-3(C) and (D)).

b. (U) Reduction in Paper Files:  The introduction of the Form DS-260, Online Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, has significantly reduced the requirement for posts to maintain paper files of visa records.  Implementation of the Modernized Immigrant Visa (MIV) program began the transition to fully electronic processing of immigrant visas.  All pertinent paper records for these cases should be scanned to become part of the electronic file.

9 FAM 601.6-3(B)  (U) Issued IV/DV Case Files

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

(U) Posts should not maintain any paper record of issued immigrant visas, including diversity visas (DVs).  All records for issued cases are retained in either IVO or INK, and are replicated in CCD.

9 FAM 601.6-3(C)  Unavailable

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

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9 FAM 601.6-3(D)  (U) Category Two IV/DV Refusal Files

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) Category Two (CAT II) IV Refusal Files:

(1)  (U) 221(g) IV Files: 

(a)  (U) CAT II IV refusals under INA 221(g) must be retained for the duration of the case termination process.  Post should scan case documents into the record in the IVO software, which replicates to the CCD record.  After case termination, the paper file, including petitions, may be shredded at post or destroyed in the same manner as other controlled and/or classified items. 

(b)  (U) Note, however, that adoption-related petitions in terminated cases must be returned to NVC – see 9 FAM 601.6-3(E) for instructions.

(2)  (U) Other CAT II IV Files:  All other CAT II IV case files should be scanned into the associated application record in the IVO system, which will replicate to the case record in the CCD.  The case files should then be destroyed one year after the refusal. 

b. (U) Category Two (CAT II) DV Refusal Files:

(1)  (U) CAT II DV refusals should be destroyed at post after one year after the date of refusal, in the same manner as other controlled and/or classified items.

(2)  (U) At the end of the DV year on September 30, all registered DV files that were not processed may be destroyed in the same manner as other controlled and/or classified items once scanned into the CCD case file.

9 FAM 601.6-3(E)  (U) Shipping IV Records to NVC

(CT:VISA-572;   04-13-2018)

a. (U) What to Send to NVC:  Terminated adoption-related petitions must be sent to NVC, and, with Visa Office approval, post’s INA 212(a)(4) IV refusals may be sent to NVC.  (See also 9 FAM 601.6-5 for information on sending CAT I IV/DV files to KCC.)    

b. (U) Preparing IV/DV Files for Shipment: 

(1)  (U) Only original petitions (no photocopies), critical evidence supporting the basis of the return and post-created documents should be returned to NVC.  Please thoroughly inspect files and cull any documents that do not belong in the case file prior to shipping.

(2)  (U) Prior to shipment to NVC, post must include a cover memo on each file specifying the reason the underlying documents are being returned, the requested disposition, and the A file number for record identification purposes. 

(3)  (U) Each box must contain an inventory list describing the contents of the shipment.

(4)  (U) Posts should refer to consular training and job aid materials specific to Petition Electronic Routing Tool (PERT) when returning electronic cases.

c.  (U) Terminated Adoption Petitions (Revocation under INA 203(g)):  The original petition, along with all supporting documents, will be returned, along witha memorandum supporting the recommendation for revocation (see 9 FAM 504.2-8(B)(2)).  I-600A, I-600, I-800A, and I-800s must include a cover memo on each document specifying the reason the underlying documents are being returned, and as well as the A file number for record identification purposes. 

9 FAM 601.6-4  (U) Scanning Visa Records

(CT:VISA-360;   05-02-2017)

a. (U) Scanning Standards:  Scanned visa records must meet NARA’s minimum resolution requirements for scanning permanent records, which is 300 DPI (dots per inch), and is available to DHS colleagues, who have access to the CCD.  In addition, the higher resolution enhances the images to ensure greater clarity.  More information regarding record scanning requirements can be found in 5 FAM 450.

b. (U) Requirement to Verify Scan, Need for Paper File:  Before destroying the case file a cleared American must verify that the paper version has been properly uploaded and is not necessary for legal or audit purposes.

c.  (U) Visa Records Requiring Scanning: 

(1)  (U) The following visa records must be electronically scanned at post:

(a)  Unavailable

(b)  (U) All new CAT I refusals (see paragraph d below); and

(c)  (U) All cases involving visa referrals.  Consular chiefs should ensure that all officers at post understand that a copy of their referral will remain available through the CCD indefinitely.

(2)  (U) As noted in 9 FAM 601.6-2 and 9 FAM 601.6-3, the following visa records must also be scanned either at post, KCC or NVC (see details in sections noted above):

(a)  (U) Older (pre DS-160) NIV issuance files - done by post or KCC;       

(b)  (U) Older (pre-DS-160) NIV 214(b) and 221(g) files - done by post or KCC (after post retains records for one year);

(c)  (U) Older unclassified CAT I NIV and IV refusal files - done by post or KCC; and

(d)  (U) Older IV (but not DV 221(g)) and NIV (except 214(b) and 221(g) files) CAT II records - done by post, KCC or NVC.

(3)  (U) As time allows, scan older files via the Independent Namecheck System (INK) into the CCD, culling files prior to scanning. 

d. (U) CAT I Cases: 

(1)  (U) Scan All Cases:  All CAT I refusal files must be scanned and maintained electronically.  This applies to both new cases, which must be scanned as the refusal is entered, and historic cases.  The original paper refusal file should be destroyed, except in cases of IV/DV cases likely to be overcome or waived within a one-year period (see 9 FAM 601.6-3(C) and B-09-002-02b in the Records Disposition Schedule).

(2)  (U) OF-194 Forms:  The OF-194 form is now available in the NIV software, consular officers are no longer required to sign and scan the OF-194 into the CCD.  Any historic paper OF-194 Forms, if found not to be reflected in the NIV cases, should be scanned into the record.

e. (U) Labeling Documents in the Electronic System:  In order to improve the efficiency of accessing scanned files, posts should utilize, as much as possible, the wide range of electronic labels available in the INK system.  Careful labeling makes a tremendous difference when documents are later retrieved.  For multi-page documents, it is helpful to identify the page number of the document in the electronic labeling. 

f.  (U) Color Versus Black-and-White:  Text documents should typically be scanned in black and white, unless color enhances the quality or usefulness of the image.  Documents containing seals, photographs, and travel documents should typically be scanned in color.

9 FAM 601.6-5  (U) Shipping Unclassified CAT I Records to KCC

(CT:VISA-653;   07-31-2018)

a. (U) Posts Not Required to Send CAT I Files to KCC:  Posts that have sufficient resources should scan their own CAT I file holdings at post.  The Department has no objection to post back-scanning their own files provided a cleared American oversees the process.  While it would normally be appropriate to contract an American family member to complete this task as a short-term project, many of the decisions on what to retain will likely fall to an officer.  The destruction of the original paper files should be witnessed by an American employee (direct hire or contractor). 

b. (U) KCC Scanning of Unclassified CAT I Files:  KCC is prepared to perform back-scanning of every post’s unclassified CAT I refusal files.  Posts that choose to have KCC back-scan their files should send an e-mail to KCCPostLiaison@state.gov with a detailed description of how many files it expects to ship for scanning.  KCC will coordinate with each post to set an appropriate delivery schedule.

c.  (U) Culling CAT I Files for KCC:  Posts must send only unclassified files to KCC, as there is no classified storage capability at the facility.  Posts must carefully cull their CAT I files prior to shipping them to KCC for back-scanning.  It is imperative that posts “scrub” the files since KCC’s contract personnel are not authorized to remove extraneous documentation from the files prior to scanning (and permanently electronically storing) them. 

d. (U) Shipping CAT I Files to KCC: 

(1)  (U) Organizing CAT I Files:  Each CAT I record should be placed into an individual file folder to clearly distinguish individuals’ records.  CAT 1 records should be organized alphabetically by surname for shipment to KCC.

(2)  (U) Shipping Instructions:  For all CAT I records shipped to KCC, posts should include a packing list or inventory for each box.  The packing list should include the post code and applicant names and dates of birth for all records included in the box. Boxes in each shipment should be numbered and a packing list for the entire shipment should be placed in Box 1.

e. (U) Shipment of CAT I Microfiche Records to KCC:  All microfiche CAT I visa refusal records currently retained at post should be shipped to KCC.  After KCC receives posts’ shipments, they will index the files and store for the remainder of the statutory storage requirement.  Posts can contact KCC to request retrieval of any records contained on microfiche.