What Administrative Processing means for your US visa application

After attending your visa interview at a US Embassy or Consulate, you may have been told at the end of the interview—or later, via email—that your case is in “administrative processing.”

This can be hugely disheartening and concerning given the time and investment you will have already put in your application.

An understanding of what administrative processing means, and knowing how to follow up on the status of your case, may be helpful to alleviate your concerns and clarify the steps you can take to progress your application and achieve a successful decision in your favour.

In this guide for US visa applicants, we explain what administrative processing means for your application and discuss the timeframes you could be facing for a decision to be made.

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What is administrative processing?

Adminstrative processing, also known as Security Advisory Opinion (SAO), refers to the period when a decision on a US visa application falls outside of the normal visa processing times.

When you attend your visa interview, your application is being adjudicated by a Department of State consular officer. Consular officers are required to make a decision on a case at the conclusion of the interview. This means they must be satisfied that you meet the visa criteria and you do not pose a security or other related risk to the US.

At the end of the visa interview, a positive or negative decision has to be entered by the officer at that time; no case can remain in unadjudicated status.

If the officer’s decision is to grant the visa, you will know right away; they will tell you this and give you instructions about how to receive your visa.

If the officer’s decision is to deny the application, the officer has a couple of choices, and this is where administrative processing can come into play.

Hard and soft denials

Broadly, there are two types of denials – “hard” and “soft” denials.

A “hard” denial is a denial under either Section 214(b) or Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), or both.

Section 214(b) is the provision of the law that allows the officer to deny the visa summarily, i.e., because they have determined that the applicant intends to overstay the visa if issued. A denial under Section 212(a) is a denial in which the officer makes a legal finding that the applicant is ineligible to enter the United States on a specific ground (for example, the applicant has been convicted of a controlled substance violation).

Section 214(b) and 212(a) denials are considered “hard” because the application has been fully adjudicated at that point, and the negative decision is not likely to be overcome or changed, at least not on that application.

A “soft” denial typically results in administrative processing.

A “soft” denial is a denial under Section 221(g). Section 221(g) is the provision of the INA which allows an officer to deny a case as an interim measure, when they do not have the information or clearance they need to be able to grant the visa at that moment.

Generally speaking, an officer would make a “soft” denial as opposed to a “hard” denial, thereby putting the case in administrative processing, because:

  • They lack some information or a clearance at that moment; and
  • They believe that the information or clearance is forthcoming, and once it is received, they will overcome the denial and grant the visa.

How do I know which type of denial I’ve received?

You be able to identify the type of denial you have received by examining the written notice the officer gives you at the end of the interview.

If the notice indicates 214(b) or identifies a 212(a) ground of ineligibility, and the officer says “I cannot grant the visa today” or something along those lines, you will know you have received a “hard” denial. Note that if the officer talks about recommending a waiver, this is NOT administrative processing, rather, it is a form of relief for an ineligibility. In, this case, take advice on making a waiver application.

If the paper indicates 221(g) or administrative processing, and the officer says, “Your case is in administrative processing,” you will know you have received a “soft,” or 221(g) denial.

A 221(g) denial has legal consequences

It is important to understand that a Section 221(g) denial which puts a case in administrative processing is legally just as much a denial as a Section 214(b) or 212(a) denial.

Unless it is overcome and turned into a grant within one year, it will remain a denial on the record, and as such, it has exactly the same impact as any other visa denial. This includes the likelihood that the applicant in the future will be denied travel authorization under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) as having been denied a visa in the past by the Department of State.

Turning a “soft” denial into a grant

This is the difficult part of administrative processing. Sometimes there is nothing you can do. Often, what is preventing the officer from granting the visa is a clearance that has yet been received. If there is negative matching or potentially matching security information in the record that needs to be cleared, under State Department guidelines, the officer cannot issue the visa until permission is received from the Visa Office in Washington, D.C..

Delays in receiving clearance are not usually the fault of the interviewing officer, who usually (with some exceptions) intends to turn the 221(g) denial into a grant. Rather, delays occur in Washington, D.C., where, depending on the type of case, the Department of State may have to seek permission to issue the visa from several other agencies of government. This is why when administrative processing involves a clearance, it can sometimes take weeks or months to be resolved.

If information is requested, provide it!

Sometimes an applicant will have some control over the timeline of administrative processing. The officer may need more information from you to resolve the case. Or they might need you to take certain action. The notice you were given at the end of the interview will tell you the information you need to provide or the action you need to take. You should act on this for your application to be progressed.

For example, the officer may need you to get a police certificate and submit it to the Embassy or Consulate. The sooner you can provide it, the faster your case will come out of administrative processing. Or the officer may need you to go for a medical examination. Your case will remain in administrative processing until you complete that exam and the results are sent by the doctor to the Embassy or Consulate.

It is important to understand that, depending on what the new information is, the case will not necessarily be resolved in your favor, i.e., the new information could prompt the officer to turn your case from a “soft” denial into a “hard” one.

Investigative work at the Embassy or Consulate

Sometimes a case may be placed in administrative processing because the officer needs to do more investigation on the case, either because there are fraud indicators or some other information is outstanding which only the officer can retrieve, for example, the officer may need to have a discussion with a colleague at another Embassy.

Generally speaking, timelines for work that can be accomplished locally, without reference to Washington, D.C., are shorter.

Steps to take your case out of Administrative Processing

If the officer has not asked you to provide information or take some action, your case is likely to be in administrative processing either because the officer is waiting for clearance or because they are conducting a local investigation.

Unfortunately, there is no way to determine which of these applies to you (and even if you did know, there is no opportunity to impact the timeline).

Nevertheless, one thing you can do regardless of the reason your case is in administrative processing is to contact the Embassy or Consulate’s Consular Section. It is important to remember that every Embassy or Consulate is required to have a public-facing email address to answer visa queries. Find out what this address is and use it to ask about the status of your case, especially if a few weeks have passed and you’ve heard nothing.

If your case has been in administrative processing for a long time, an inquiry from you or your attorney is not only reasonable but may serve to remind the officer that the case needs following up with whatever parties the officer is dealing with on your case.

My case has been in Administrative Processing for months – what can I do?

You could consider submitting a second visa application if your case has been in administrative processing for several months. There are pros and cons of doing this; the decision should be weighed carefully based on individual circumstances, and you should seek advice on your best course of action.

Applicants in extremely long administrative processing may wish to consider making a Congressional inquiry, writing the Visa Office in Washington, D.C. directly, or requesting that the case be expedited if compelling circumstances exist, e.g., circumstances that would involve severe financial loss to a US business entity.

In an extreme case, filing a special writ in federal district court, a writ of mandamus, may compel the Department of State to act on your case.

Need assistance?

To find out what your options might be, seek advice. The US immigration attorneys at NNU Immigration are specialists in consular practice. We help employers and individuals, guiding them through the visa application process.

If you have a question about administrative processing, or any other US immigration-related matter, please contact us for advice.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.