9 FAM 504

9 FAM 504.1

Immigrant visa process overview

(CT:VISA-1230;   02-23-2021)
(Office of Origin:  CA/VO)

9 FAM 504.1-1  statutory and regulatory Authorities

9 FAM 504.1-1(A)  Immigration and Nationality Act

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

INA 101(a)(16) (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(16)); INA 201 (8 U.S.C. 1151); INA 202(b) (8 U.S.C. 1152(b)); INA 203(e) (8 U.S.C. 1153(e)); INA 203(f) (8 U.S.C. 1153(f)); INA 203(g) (8 U.S.C. 1153(g)); INA 204 (8 U.S.C. 1154); INA 221(a) (8 U.S.C. 1201(a)); INA 221(g) (8 U.S.C. 1201(g)); INA 222(a) (8 U.S.C. 1202(a)); INA 222(b) (8 U.S.C. 1202(b));  INA 222(e) (8 U.S.C. 1202(e)); INA 224 (8 U.S.C. 1204).

9 FAM 504.1-1(B)  Code of Federal Regulations

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

22 CFR 40.6; 22 CFR 42.41; 22 CFR 42.51; 22 CFR 42.52; 22 CFR 42.55; 22 CFR 42.62; 22 CFR 42.63; 22 CFR 42.65(b); 22 CFR 42.67; 22 CFR 42.81.

9 FAM 504.1-2  Pre-application Processing

(CT:VISA-1230;   02-23-2021)

a. Sending Instruction Package:

(1)  NVC: Upon receipt of an approved petition granting an alien immediate relative or preference status, the National Visa Center (NVC) must send the alien beneficiary the NVC Welcome Letter (formerly Packet 3) or “Notice of Registration as an Intending Immigrant” letter for physical petitions (formerly Packet 3A) notifying the beneficiary of receipt of the petition and advising the alien what steps, if any, to take in applying for a visa.  (See 9 FAM 504.4-2(A).)

(2)  For Petitions Filed at Post:  You must send the instruction package for IV applicants immediately to applicants who have provided evidence of entitlement to immigrant classification.  You should also provide the Instruction Package to immigrant visa applicants and others upon request, regardless of whether the inquirer is entitled to immigrant classification, stressing that they should take no action unless directed by the NVC, a visa processing post, or their agent.

b. Documentarily Complete:  Once the beneficiary of an approved petition is considered documentarily complete, an IV number can be allotted (if necessary) and an appointment scheduled.

(1)  For petitions filed at post, an applicant is considered to be documentarily complete after completing the two following steps:

(a)  The alien has returned the optional Form DS-2001, Notification of Applicant Readiness, and declared that he or she has obtained all of the required documents, or has otherwise notified post that he or she is prepared for interview (see 9 FAM 504.4-5(A)(2) regarding the optional use of Form DS-2001); and

(b)  The post has completed all required clearance procedures, or has reason to believe that they will be completed before a visa number will be available for the applicant.  (See 9 FAM 504.4-5 regarding the reporting of documentarily-qualified applicants.)

(2)  For petitions processed through NVC, an applicant is considered to be documentarily complete after completing the four following steps:

(a)  Paid all required fees;

(b)  Completed Form DS-260, Online Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, for each traveling applicant;

(c)  Completed and returned a properly completed Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Act, and supporting documents (see 9 FAM 601.14) for cases in which INA 212(a)(4) applies; and

(d)  Returned all required police certificates for each traveling applicant as required by 22 CFR 42.65(c) or available based on the reciprocity table (see 9 FAM 504.4-4(B)).

c.  Immigrant Visa Numbers:  The documentarily complete figures submitted monthly (see 9 FAM 601.4-5) provide the Department the known total (by priority date, chargeability, classification, and post) of visa applicants who are awaiting only visa numbers to apply formally for a visa.  After collation of these data, the Department makes monthly allotments to the extent available visa numbers permit.  (See 9 FAM 503.4.)  If demand exceeds the supply of available numbers, the priority date of the first applicant for whom a number is not available becomes the issuance cutoff date for the categories and foreign states concerned.  The documentarily complete totals are used for setting the cutoff dates.  It is therefore essential that the following general guidelines set forth in 9 FAM 504.3-2(A) be strictly observed in preparing the monthly reports of documentarily complete applicants. 

d. Scheduling Appointments:

(1)  NVC provides the IV (non-DV) scheduling functions for the majority of posts worldwide.  Appointments are generally scheduled in the chronological order of the documentarily complete applicants.  Posts provide NVC with their appointment capacity and the percentage of cases/applicants post desires for Immediate Relative and Preference categories.  Other considerations, such as possible mailing delays or travel time by applicants to post, may be taken into consideration in scheduling appointments.  Once the scheduling is completed by NVC, post will receive visa numbers for the numerically controlled immigrant visa applicants from CA/VO/DO/I.  The case files and electronic data will be received from NVC.  When visa numbers and the electronic data files are received, posts should ensure that these items are properly recorded in the automated immigrant visa processing system (IVO).  NVC will send all appointment letters for cases scheduled through NVC.  Post will use IVO to send any appointment letters scheduled at post.

(2)  When an appointment date is scheduled (either by NVC or post) for an alien not subject to numerical limitations, the post should enter the appointment date into IVO.  For appointments scheduled through NVC, the case files and electronic data will be received from NVC.

9 FAM 504.1-3  IV Application Processing

(CT:VISA-1230;   02-23-2021)

a. Definition of "making an immigrant visa application." For an immigrant visa (IV) applicant, "making a visa application" requires the applicant to:

(1)  Pay the prescribed application fee;

(2)  Appear in person, except an officer may waive the appearance of a child under the age of 14 who is not the principal applicant, and submit a completed Form DS-260 for formal adjudication by a consular officer;

(3)  Affirm that all information on the DS-260 and all statements made during the interview are true, subject to 18 U.S.C. 1001, which provides a penalty for making a false statement or using a false document in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the U.S. government; and

(4)  Biometrically sign their application under oath by providing a fingerprint, if over the age of 14, legally competent, and physically capable.

b. Prior to Appointment:

(1)  When appearing at the appointed time for the formal visa appointment, an applicant is entitled to receive prompt attention.  The post should pull and review the appointment list and case files prior to the appointment date.

(2)  The consular section must send unclassified material to the document checker for review.  The consular officer must review classified material.

c.  Document Checking:  When the applicant presents the documents, the post must check the documents for completeness and legibility.  The document checker should ensure each question on Form DS-260 has been answered.  Post should use the “Add Remarks” function associated with a section of the application that needs correction or amplification.  If Form DS-260 is incomplete, the document checker must reopen the application via the “Reopen DS-260” button at the top of the online IV application report and direct the applicant to log back onto the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC), complete the missing information, and resubmit the Form DS-260.

d. Verification of Documents by Consular Officer: 

(1)  When an alien presents a photocopy of any of the required documents listed under 22 CFR 42.65(b), it is important that the original document be inspected by consular section personnel.  After inspection, the consular section must endorse the paper copy with a rubber stamp that imprints the name of the post and the fact that the original has been seen and compared.  For copies of these required documents that have been uploaded electronically into a consular system, the consular section personnel will either click the 'Original Seen and Compared' button in eDP or make a case note in the CCD that indicates the original has been seen and compared to the scanned copy in eDP Web Post.  This procedure does not constitute a certification within the meaning of Item 47 of the Tariff of Fees, since neither the full signature of a consular officer nor the official seal of the post is used or required.  This service is performed without fee, whether on public documents required under INA 222(b) or on documents submitted in support of Form ETA-9089, Application for Permanent Employment Certification.

(2)  You may accept a certified document that is not identical to a required scanned document in eDP Web Post if the information contained in the certified document is taken from the same legal source as the scanned document (i.e., the appropriate civil registry or other host nation government office responsible for issuing such documents) and there are no fraud concerns for either document.  You should enter the case note “certified copy seen and compared” to indicate that a certified copy of the required document has been seen and compared to the scanned document.  The scanned document in eDP will be the document of record for the applicant’s A-file.  You do not need to scan the document physically presented at the window into the system.

(a)  For example: a beneficiary’s true original birth certificate is in the possession of the petitioner in the United States who uploads an electronic copy into eDP through the CEAC portal.  In order to prepare for his/her interview, the beneficiary obtains a new certified birth certificate.  Even though the document may be different from the original in terms of physical appearance or serial number, the substantive information presented on the document remains the same, and it was issued by the appropriate host nation government office.  In this instance, barring any unresolved fraud concerns, post would enter the case note “certified copy seen and compared” to indicate that a certified copy of the required document has been seen and compared to the scanned document, and continue processing the case.  Consular officers should not check the “seen and compared” button in MIV, nor is staff required to rescan the document presented at the time of interview, so long as the document in eDP is an accurate and attributable document sufficient for the applicant’s A-file. 

(b)  VO acknowledges posts operate in different fraud environments.  Posts should use resources as appropriate to establish that the documents submitted electronically or in person are, in fact, non-fraudulent documents issued by the appropriate governmental authority and are attributable to the applicant. 

(3)  The DHS procedures differ from those described in the above paragraph in that DHS does not routinely require the submission of original documents or certified copies with the filing of petitions.  As a result, you must ensure that photocopies of required documents (birth certificate, marriage, and divorce certificates) submitted in support of petitions are compared with original documents at the time of immigrant visa (IV) application.  Original documents connected with petition filing, but not required for IV issuance, should not be routinely required unless there is reason to doubt their authenticity.  However, the consular officer, at his or her discretion, may require submission of any original document in order to compare it with a photocopy upon which a petition was approved.

e. Collecting Fees: 

(1)  A single fee is charged combining the costs of processing and issuance of the immigrant visa. An individual registered for immigrant visa processing at a post designated for this purpose by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services must pay the processing fee. The fee must be paid when the individual is notified that a visa is expected to become available in the near future and he or she is requested to obtain the supporting documentation needed to apply formally for a visa.

(2)  NVC Collection of Immigrant Visa Fees:   Most cases are processed through the NVC and the processing fee will have already been collected in the United States before the case was forwarded to post.  The NVC's Post Supplement Report, included in the file of IVIS cases scheduled by the NVC, will indicate whether the fee has been paid. If the Post Supplement Report is unavailable, post can determine if the fee has been paid using the IVIS Beneficiary Report in the CCD.  Post can also review the fee payment details for PIVOT cases in the IVO case notes once loaded into the system. If there are any questions about whether a fee was paid while a case was at the NVC, post should email NVCPost@state.gov.

(3)  Paying Processing Fee at Post:  For cases processed through the NVC, this fee will be collected during initial processing by NVC.  Posts will collect the visa processing fee only for those cases in which the petition is filed at post or in which the visa file otherwise indicates that the fee has not yet been collected.  In cases where the applicant has completed and submitted Form DS-260, once the medical forms and other documents have been placed in logical order or are uploaded and accessible in eDP Web Post, the alien must proceed to the cashier and pay the processing fee.  The alien must pay before the interview.  In situations described in 9 FAM 504.6-5(B), the cashier must not collect a new processing fee.  After the fee has been paid, the document checker must give the completed file to the consular officer who will interview the applicant.  The document checker should not print out the online IV application report associated with the submitted Form DS-260 or any other documents accessible in eDP.

f. Interview:  Decisions to issue or refuse an immigrant visa application must be based on a personal interview, during which the consular officer must ensure that all required documentation has been provided, that there is a legal basis for the applicant to immigrate, and that there are no ineligibilities that would affect visa issuance.

(1)  Consular officers must make every effort to conduct visa interviews fairly and professionally.  Any semblance of aggressive cross-examination, assumption of bad faith, or entrapment must be avoided.  Applicants should be given sufficient time to answer questions without interruption.  In cases where the consular officer’s determinations are difficult to make or which are or may become the subject of controversy, the officer must make a thorough and carefully written record of the interview so that the basis for the final action can be fully documented.  (See 9 FAM 504.11.)

(2)  Interviewing visa applicants is one of the consular officer’s most demanding jobs, requiring the officer’s composure, judgment, and diplomatic skills.  Techniques for good interviewing, including the critical skill of how to ask the right questions, deserve careful attention.  Training materials on effective interviewing and fraud interviews are available through the Fraud Prevention Program’s Consular Affairs Web page.

g. Adjudications:  Once an application has been executed, the consular officer must either issue the visa or refuse it.  A consular officer cannot temporarily refuse, suspend, or hold the visa for future action.  If the consular officer refuses the visa, he or she must inform the applicant of the provisions of law on which the refusal is based, and of any statutory provision under which administrative relief is available.  (See 9 FAM 504.11 for the refusal procedure and 9 FAM 305.2 for waiver relief.)

h. Issuances:  The machine-readable immigrant visa (MRIV) is printed on the same adhesive foils used for NIVs and includes the following information:

(1)  Biographic data about the immigrant visa applicant;

(2)  Information about the immigrant visa itself (issuing post, visa type, case number, date of issuance and date of expiration);

(3)  The registration number (A-number) assigned to the immigrant;

(4)  Any annotations entered to reflect waivers or other information useful for the port of entry (POE) upon the applicant's admission to the United States;

(5)  A digitized photo of the visa recipient; and

(6)  Two lines of machine-readable data which will be scanned by the immigration officer at the POE.

i.  Refusals:

(1)  There are no exceptions to the rule that once a visa application has been properly completed and executed before a consular officer, a visa must be either issued or refused.  For statistical and comparison purposes, all posts should follow the identical refusal procedures and report refusals the same way in their required reports of visas issued and refused.  (See 9 FAM 601.4-5.)  Accordingly, any alien to whom a visa is not issued by the end of the working day on which the application is made, or by the end of the next working day if it is normal post procedure to issue visas to some or all applicants the following day, must be found ineligible under one or more provisions of INA 212(a), 212(e), 221(g), or other applicable ground of ineligibility set forth in 9 FAM 302.  This requirement to find an applicant ineligible when a visa is not issued applies even when:

(a)  A case is medically deferred;

(b)  The post requests an advisory opinion from the Department;

(c)  The post decides to make additional local inquiries or conduct a full investigation; or

(d)  The only deficiency is a clearance from another post. 

      There is no such thing as an informal refusal or a pending case once a formal application has been made.

(2)  Manner in Refusing Applicants:

(a)  You should convey visa refusals in a sympathetic but firm manner.  The manner in which visa applications are refused can be very important in relations between the post and the population of the host country.  You must be careful not to appear insensitive.

(b)  You should aim for a measured, sympathetic but firm style which will convince the ineligible applicant that the treatment accorded was fair.  You should refer to pertinent statements of the applicant, written or oral, or to a conviction, medical report, false document, previous refusal, or the like, as the basis of the refusal.  You should then explain the law simply and clearly.

9 FAM 504.1-4  Special Procedures

9 FAM 504.1-4(A)  Revocations

9 FAM 504.1-4(A)(1)  When May a Visa be Revoked?

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

You are authorized to revoke an immigrant visa (IV) under the following rare circumstances:

(1)  You know, or after investigation are satisfied, that the visa was procured by fraud, a willfully false or misleading representation, the willful concealment of a material fact, or other unlawful means;

(2)  You obtain information establishing that the alien was otherwise ineligible to receive the particular visa at the time it was issued; or

(3)  You obtain information establishing that, subsequent to the issuance of the visa, a ground of ineligibility has arisen in the alien’s case.  Note that some ineligibilities require an advisory opinion (AO) or security advisory opinion (SAO) before a finding is made.

9 FAM 504.1-4(A)(2)  Reconsideration of Revocation

(CT:VISA-1;   11-18-2015)

a. The alien may ask that you reconsider the revocation of his/her immigrant visa (IV).  You should consider any evidence submitted by the alien or the alien’s attorney or representative in connection with any request for reconsideration.

b. If you find that the evidence is sufficient to overcome the basis for revocation, you should issue the alien a new IV.

(1)  Be certain to make the appropriate notations of the action taken and the reasons therefore in the case files.

(2)  If you have already sent notice to carriers, the Department, and/or the issuing office per the above guidance, send the appropriate notifications that you have issued a new IV.

c.  Per 9 FAM 504.6-4, you may not collect a fee in connection with the application for, or issuance of, a reinstated visa.

9 FAM 504.1-4(B)  Termination of Registration

(CT:VISA-1118;   07-21-2020)

a. When a Case is Considered “Inactive”:  An application becomes subject to possible termination of registration under INA 203(g) if the applicant:

(1)  Has not made an application within one year of receiving the Immigrant Visa appointment letter.  The beneficiary has one year to make a timely application for a visa, beginning on the date NVC or post mails or emails the Immigrant Visa appointment letter to the beneficiary.

(2)  Does not respond to the appointment notice included with the Immigrant Visa Appointment Package, meaning that the applicant fails to appear for the final visa application interview on the scheduled appointment date and fails to take further action on the case within one year of the scheduled interview;

(3)  Is refused at the interview under INA 221(g), and fails to provide you with evidence to overcome the refusal within one year.  The one-year period is extended each time an applicant presents evidence reasonably purporting to overcome the INA 221(g) ineligibility; or

(4)  Fails to comply with the Follow-up Instruction Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants within one year.

b. Applicants Whose Cases are Subject to Termination Under 203(g):  INA 203(g) procedures apply to applicants who are immediate relatives, family-preference immigrants, employment-based immigrants, and special immigrants who have received notification of the availability of a visa (i.e., who have been sent Appointment Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants (formerly Packet 4) or Modified Follow-Up Instruction Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants (formerly Packet 4(a))).  (See 9 FAM 504.13-2(A)(2).)