Visa Wait Times, Delays, and Denials

The most common reasons for non-immigrant visa delays or denials are the following:

  1. Intent to Immigrate
    Most often, the reason for a denial has to do with the student's or scholar's presumed intent to immigrate to the United States, known as 214(b). It is often difficult to disprove this assumption as it is by nature very subjective. Please review the visa denial information provided by the U.S. Department of State (DOS).
  2. Security Clearances for Some Visa Applications
    DOS has indicated that the process of issuing visas to some individuals may be delayed due to "further administrative processing". These security clearances must be processed by several U.S. Government agencies. DOS has stated that their goal is to complete the security clearances within a 30-day period. The HIO can make inquiries with DOS after 60 days. Although it does not happen often, security clearances can take months and if this happens, the HIO is unable to expedite the clearance process. Please review the "further administrative processing" information provided by DOS. The following is used to determine who may be subject to this process.
    1. Citizenship, Nationality or Country of Birth
      Scrutiny is imposed on visa applicants who were born in or are nationals or citizens of certain countries. The list has varied since 2001, and it is often unclear whether a particular country is officially on the list or not. Applicants from countries that DOS has identified as state sponsors of terrorism always undergo a security clearance.
    2. Field of Study or Research
      A security clearance is normally required for students and scholars conducting research in certain academic fields. There is no publicly available list of academic fields that would trigger a security clearance. However, our experience has been that most science oriented majors can trigger a security clearance. In a memorandum, DOS indicated that a security clearance based on the field of study or research would be valid for longer periods of time, making visa renewal less time consuming.
    3. Citizenship and Field of Research
      Although there is no official statement to this effect, our recent experience has been that citizens of Russia, China and India who are engaged in scientific research are often subject to security clearances that can be outside that 60-90 day window.

Preparing for Possible "further administrative processing"

Our recent experience shows that students who are subject to "further administrative processing" might help expedite this process by including a "research plan" with their visa application materials. The "research plan" should include following:

  • Your name, degree level or academic appointment title, the number of years you have been in your current academic program or post-doc position, and amount and source of your funding
  • An overview of your research that includes a detailed non-technical description of your research and whether it is basic or applied research. Please specify whether the research has military or defense applications
  • When you are expected to return to Harvard to continue your studies or research position

It would be advisable to obtain a letter from your academic advisor or P.I. which describes briefly in non-technical terms the specific area of your research and how that research fits into the overall research goals of your research group.

These letters will not deter a security clearance, but may expedite the clearance.

Please consult with your HIO advisor if you have questions or concerns about applying for a visa.