The National Visa Center (NVC) plays a key part in helping bring family members together. It’s an office within the U.S. Department of State and serves to collect documents and information needed for an immigrant visa interview that will be held at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside the United States.
A file arrives at the NVC after USCIS has approved the underlying petition – like an I-130 for a family member. The NVC then tells the applicant what kinds of documents and information is needed for the visa interview abroad. Once the NVC has received all of the necessary items, the interview is scheduled.
The NVC has always been known for its attention to detail, and it was consistent and predictable. However, over the past six months, the National Visa Center has seen a major decline in efficiency, responsiveness, and customer service. Now, the NVC hardly seems to know what files and documents they have.
For example, in August, our law firm sent in a money order to pay the processing fees for a client. Although the money order was cashed, the NVC has no record of this payment, and it took the NVC over a month to tell us that the payment was missing. Meanwhile, the case is frozen and it appears our only solution is to repay the fees so that it doesn’t require us to wait several more months.
On other occasions, we have repeatedly mailed in original marriage and birth certificates, only to be told by the NVC that they have not received them. Yes, we have a tracking number and a delivery signature, but the NVC cannot find the items. These are expensive and time-consuming errors because when working with original documents from countries that may not have a robust record keeping system, it can take several months to get a new original civil document.
The disorganization also goes the other direction. We have received confirmation letters from the NVC saying that they have received documents that we have not mailed to them.
At the end of the process, once the NVC has received all necessary files, they send a letter saying that it will take them 60 days to complete a review. It used to take just a few weeks.
So what’s the cause of the chaos?
Representatives of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) hope to find out in early November when they have a meeting scheduled with the NVC.
One theory is that when the I-130 processing times went from a year to about four months, the NVC was overloaded with files that need consular processing. It could also be a technology issue, as the Department of State has recently upgraded its software – initially causing a delay for visas to be issued.
Whatever the problems are, they must be fixed. The NVC is unnecessarily delaying the reunification of families, they are causing undue stress on applicants, and they are creating duplicative work for attorneys.
If you have a case pending with the NVC, be prepared to pull your hair out. If you have an attorney assisting you, they should be able to guide your case through the quagmire, though it will take patience and persistence.