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How the U.S. Visa System Works

Updated on August 3, 2020

Just what happens when a person files the paperwork for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa from with the USA? Many new citizens and those with Green Cards file applications for visas for their loved ones to visit the USA or to seek permanent residence (these are most often children under 18 yrs. of age). Without going into details about classifications, whatever visa application is being filed, it is best if the person filing is a U.S. citizen in behalf of another relation (such as a child). This will put the application in a very favorable classification and higher priority than say a person with a Green Card, which is a much lower priority and different classification.

Visas come in two main classifications: Immigrant (those who will reside in the USA ) and Non-Immigrant (those who visit for six months or less, here for business temporarily, students, etc.). There are MANY sub-classifications to each depending on the relationship of the applicant to the person needing the visa.

Just What Happens When filed?

Once you have filled out the proper USCIS form for whatever visa you seek, include whatever documentation proof needed and including the payment fee (you need to research just what the fees are and what documents you need to include), send it to the correct address (this varies due to geographic areas. Sending to the wrong address will just delay everything).

Upon receipt, the USCIS will take their time to review it for completeness and issue a decision. You will know within two weeks or so, if you application, fees, documentation is rejected, incomplete, or accepted. If incomplete, they will ask for specific documents or cite what is wrong with the supporting docs or application (even for something as simple as no signatures at the end).

Now, your visa application is forwarded to the lethargic National Visa Center (NVC) for a more thorough review. This agency is famous for never responding to any applicant inquiries as months slip by. Their online system seems to be designed to frustrate the applicant with frequent crashes, non-operating links, erroneous information about what is submitted and very infrequently looked at from their end. They conduct a review and collect fees for the embassy where a visa is being sought. Their phone number is simply to placate the applicant, because you will seldom ever talk with a real person about your case. Wait times are almost always 30 minutes or more. Added to the problem is there is a HUGE backlog of cases due to covid-19 and because since March 2020, all U.S. embassies across the globe have NOT been processing visa applications. For instance, one USC applied for a visa for a child living in the Philippines on Oct. 25, 2019, normally, by April, 2020, it all should have been done, but for the virus. As of August 2020, the visa still has not been assigned a embassy interview because they are not doing any interviews there.

Assuming your visa does receive an embassy interview date, any visa applicant will need to go have a health exam and get the certificate of health at a specified USCIS approved facility in the country of residence. This is an added expense. You will need to present this during the embassy interview (which basically is to determine your level of English and understanding and to illicit additional information).

According to the NVC, visa applications submitted from within the USA, the NVC will schedule the embassy appointment for them once approved. It will be in the home country of the applicant. Visa applications submitted to a U.S. Embassy in another country, need to follow the instructions about scheduling this appointment and costs involved in that country, as they are all different.


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