If you are planning to apply for a visa to enter the U.S., be prepared for a potential delay of several weeks and sometimes even several months for a security clearance. While this may not be the case for a majority of people, it is a possibility that you should prepare for by scheduling your visa interview early in your trip and informing your department, faculty and supervisors in advance.
These additional measures that lead to unexpected delays for some individuals involve three kinds of security checks affecting nonimmigrant visa processing. If the application is flagged as a possible security concern when a consulate receives a visa application, a request is sent to the Department of State (DOS) for security clearances.
The first possible check is the CONDOR clearance. It is difficult to anticipate whether or not an individual will be subject to this security clearance since the criteria is classified.
The second possible check is the MANTIS clearance. This is a “sensitive technology” alert based on whether an applicant is involved in any of the 15 categories found on the Critical Fields List (CFL) of DOS’ Technology Alert List (TAL). The TAL includes an expanded list of technologies with potential “dual-use” applications. Some of these technologies appear benign but are deemed to have potential military applications.
The list is very comprehensive and includes almost every possible associated technology or skill involving chemistry, biochemistry, immunology, chemical engineering, civil engineering and pharmacology to name a few. Having such a broad all-inclusive list means that most research scientists, physicians, academics and engineers involved in any of these fields could be subject to the MANTIS clearance. So it is very possible to run across a consular officer who will decide to err on the side of caution and obtain a MANTIS clearance prior to issuing a visa.
The third possible check involves then NCIC Criminal clearance. Unfortunately, for those with common names (Smith, Kim, Mohammad, etc.) false hits are occurring with increased regularity. An NCIC clearance can take four to six weeks to process. Approximately seven million names have been dumped into the system, and about half of them are Latino, resulting in a large number of false hits and delays for persons with common Latino names.
Even if you have maintained a spotless immigration record and have never had more than a traffic violation, false hits are the biggest headache for unsuspecting visa applicants. Individuals with common Muslim or Latino names are almost guaranteed hits in CONDOR or NCIC.
When making plans to travel abroad, Berkeley International Office would like you to be aware that we are seeing an increasing number of our international students and scholars being subjected to security clearances as a part of the visa application process at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. While these clearances are usually intended for individuals working in areas that are described as sensitive fields related to U.S. security (such as chemistry, biological sciences and physics), and may focus on nationals of certain countries, the extent and scope of these clearances can sometimes go beyond these areas.
In addition, it is our observation that these clearances can take between 60-90 days, and even longer in some cases. Should you be subject to a security clearance, you will have to wait until it is completed before you can return to the U.S. It is important for you to know that it is our experience that no amount of intervention on the part of the university will speed up the unpredictable security clearance processing time.
You also need to consider the fact that there are often increased wait times for visa appointments because United States consulates/embassies may be closed for the holidays (including Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and other host country national holidays).
We do not want to discourage travel, but we do urge you to factor in the possibility of these delays when making your plans, and to consult with your academic advisers, principal investigators or faculty hosts regarding the feasibility of your absence before making a final decision to travel abroad at this time.