Volume 5, Number 3
April 24, 2009
The Communiqué is an on-going series of messages to departments who sponsor international scholars at Boston University. With the Communiqué, we offer information that helps in the processing of scholar immigration-related documents and petitions. We hope you find the Communiqué a useful tool in working with the ISSO and in successfully hiring and sponsoring scholars from around the world. Past Communiqués are archived on our web site. Click here to go to the archive page.
- Communicating Travel Planning during ISSO Processing
- Travel Advisory – Increased Visa Delays and Security Clearances
1. Travel Planning during ISSO and USCIS Processing
In order to ensure that immigration petitions are prepared correctly, the ISSO would advise scholars/employees to clearly communicate to the ISSO any plans for international travel which is expected to occur during ISSO processing or USCIS adjudication of their case. Any scholar or employee completing the From B section of ISSO paperwork for initial sponsorship, extension of status or amendment of employment authorization, is advised to provide complete information about upcoming international travel in Section 9 (page 2) of the form. Scholars or employees who make travel plans after completing ISSO paperwork, must communicate these plans to the ISSO as soon as possible.
In certain cases, there are differing procedures which must be followed depending on a scholar’s travel plans. In many cases, international travel may disrupt USCIS processing. Scholars applying for change of immigration status in the USCIS, for instance, should be advised that international travel may be considered abandonment of a petition for change status. Scholars extending or amending their status or employment authorization during ISSO processing must also communicate their travel to ensure that the ISSO files their petition while the scholar is physically in the U.S. and using copies of the most current immigration documents. Communication with the ISSO is also important in order to ensure that the scholar/employee has the appropriate immigration documents for their return to the U.S. , including any required USCIS approval notices or other immigration documents, and a valid, unexpired visa stamp.
2. Travel Advisory – Increased Visa Delays and Security Clearances
The ISSO would advise international scholars applying for a new visa stamp at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad to be prepared for the possibility of lengthy security clearances, which may delay the scholar’s initial entry or return the U.S. This advisory applies to new incoming scholars as well as to current scholars who travel abroad temporarily with the intent to return to BU.
With the exception of Canadian citizens (who are exempt from the requirement to obtain a visa stamp prior to entry to the U.S.), citizens of all other countries must apply for a visa stamp in their passport in order to enter the U.S. in a nonimmigrant status (such as J-1, H-1B, O-1 or other status). Although the ISSO is able to process extensions of status and employment authorization for Boston University employees and other sponsored scholars, a scholar who departs the U.S. may need to apply for a new visa stamp at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad in order to reenter the U.S.
All visa applicants are routinely screened before the visa is issued, regardless of nationality. In most cases, the initial review of the individual’s application and a brief interview provide the information the consular officer needs to make a decision regarding visa issuance. In some cases, however, further checks and clearances are needed. While there are several reasons for additional screening, the most common are that the applicant is from a country considered to pose a risk or is working in a field that is considered “sensitive” to national security, or there are other individuals with the same or similar name. If the individual’s case is selected for further clearance, the consular officer may tell the individual that a security advisory opinion is needed, or that the case requires “further administrative processing.”
In the past, most types of security clearances have usually been completed within 30 days. Lately, however, the ISSO and other universities have reported delays ranging from 6 weeks to over 12 weeks, particularly for citizens of certain countries (including, but not limited to China, India and Russia). Unfortunately, if a scholar is selected for security screening, the ISSO has few resources to assist in speeding up this process. The security clearances often require inter-agency input, and the U.S. Department of State will neither discuss nor reveal the reason for a security advisory on a particular case.
In light of these longer delays, the ISSO encourages departments, now more than ever, to submit requests for new arriving scholars to the ISSO as soon as possible before a scholar’s expected start date. For scholars who are applying for their initial visa stamps, hiring/host departments should anticipate that it may take up to three months from receiving the immigration documents from the ISSO for the a scholar to arrive in the United States to begin academic duties at Boston University.
Current scholars who are traveling and need to renew their visa stamps should also be aware of the risk of delay and are encouraged to contact the ISSO for guidance prior to departure. Current scholars should also make certain their supervisors are aware that a delayed return may be possible and to establish contingency plans for ongoing research or coverage of University responsibilities.
While there is nothing a scholar or department can do to prevent a security clearance, there are some general tips to ensure that there is no additional delay due to insufficient or incorrect information:
- Plan Ahead! The scholar should arrange the appointment at the U.S. consulate or embassy for the earliest day possible to allow ample time between the visa appointment and their expected date of travel to the U.S.
- The scholar should arrive well-prepared for the visa interview, with all of his/her immigration documents and any financial documentation or academic credentials that may be required.
- The scholar’s name should appear consistently on all legal documents used in applying for the visa.
- The scholar should follow review any local procedures or instructions provided on the website for the consulate at which they will apply for their visa.
- Any scholar who is already at BU is advised to discuss his/her travel plans with a member of the ISSO scholar advising team before leaving the U.S.
In the event that a scholar is delayed due to security clearance, it is crucial that the scholar and/or the hiring/host department inform the ISSO so that we can monitor the situation. While we have limited resources to speed up a routine security clearance case, the ISSO may be able to assist in cases of document or procedural error or in cases of “extended” delay (generally 90 days or more). In some cases, modifications to the immigration documents might also be required.
Further information on visa application procedures and travel tips can be found at:
Applying for an H-1B visa: http://www.bu.edu/isso/scholars/h1-visa/
Obtaining a J-1 visa: http://www.bu.edu/isso/scholars/j1-visa/
Travel Advisory – (Recently updated! Includes discussion of security clearances):
Your Scholar Services team,
Jeanne E. Kelley
M. Andrea Popa
Assistant Director for Scholar Services
Peter F. O’Meara
International Scholar Advisor
International Students & Scholars Office Boston University
19 Deerfield Street, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02215
Tel: (617) 353-3565
Fax: (617) 358-1170