A petition has been approved by US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of a foreign national and she receives the long-awaited and coveted I-797 Approval Notice. She is brimming with excitement as she logs into the US Embassy/Consulate’s online visa appointment system to schedule the appointment to get the visa stamped in her passport. But the next available appointment is weeks away. And she needs to travel to the US as soon as possible. What to do? Here are five things she could try to help expedite her visa appointment and increase the chances of her appointment going smoothly.
1. Request an Emergency Appointment
Each US Embassy/Consulate has a slightly different procedure for making this request, but many US Embassies/Consulates offer an option to request an emergency appointment through their online appointment system. Once logged into the foreign national’s online profile on the system, on the homepage there may be a button that says “Request emergency appointment.” This button normally only appears after an appointment is booked, so even if there is no appointment date early enough to suit the travel needs, foreign nationals should still book the next available appointment. This will put them in a better position to attempt expediting a visa appointment. Once the button is visible, click on it to make the request. While there is no guarantee the request will be successful, this is the best chance many foreign nationals have of expediting the appointment.
2. Use Specific Information to Justify the Need for an Emergency Appointment
If the urgent need to travel to the US is for work, foreign nationals should include as many details as possible about the project that requires them to be in the US and what would occur if they were not able to arrive in the US on time. If a family member is ill, foreign nationals should again provide details about the nature of the emergency and proof that they are related to the family member in question. It is best if foreign nationals are able to bring documentation with them to the appointment in support of the request—a letter from the visa sponsor or family member’s doctor would work in the examples provided above.
3. Submit the Form DS-160 Early
While the Department of State recommends submitting the Form DS-160 no later than forty-eight hours in advance of the appointment, foreign nationals should submit their applications as early as possible. The information on the DS-160 is needed to perform security checks prior to processing the visa stamp after the appointment, so submitting early will help to minimize any delays. Bear in mind that if the emergency request asks for an appointment date ASAP, the DS-160 should also be submitted ASAP in an effort to get the Department of State the necessary information as early as possible, even if it may not make the recommended forty-eight hour deadline.
4. Ensure the I-797 Approval Notice and Corresponding Petition Are Uploaded Into PIMS
PIMM’S is a cocktail, of course, but in the immigration context PIMS stands for “Petitioner Information Management Service,” which is the electronic database that allows consular officers at US Embassies/Consulates around the world to access and confirm USCIS petition approval data and supporting documents online, thereby speeding up the issuance of nonimmigrant visas. Typically if USCIS was provided with a duplicate of the originally filed visa petition, they should forward one copy and the approval notice to be uploaded into PIMS automatically. Unfortunately, more often than we would like, there is a delay in a petition being uploaded into the PIMS system, sometimes causing a delay in the issuance of a visa. If foreign nationals are requesting an expedited appointment on a tight schedule, they should ensure that the petition has been uploaded to PIMS.
5. Ensure that the Passport Is Valid and in Good Condition, With at Least Two Opposite Facing Blank Pages for the Visa Stamp
While this won’t help foreign nationals schedule an appointment any quicker, it will make the visa processing much smoother. Foreign nationals’ passports should be valid for at least six months beyond the requested period of stay in the United States unless exempt by country-specific agreements. In addition, the passport should not be damaged in any way. The passport photo must be clear and the information must be legible; if the plastic is peeling off the photo page, foreign nationals may be required to get a new passport. The rest of the pages in the passport should not be torn, crinkled, or stained. If the passport is damaged, foreign nationals should not attempt to fix the damage as this could be construed as a fraudulent act; they should apply for a new passport.
Book early. Okay, this might not be that helpful if foreign nationals are already in the predicament described above, but once that I-797 Approval Notice is received, they shouldn’t delay! Planning ahead is crucial in securing an ideal visa appointment date. And note that visa appointments at US Embassies/Consulates tend to book up further in advance during the summer and around holidays. So those who are waiting should go ahead and make that appointment. They’ll be glad they did!