In the past two weeks, hardware computer problems halted the issuance of thousands of visas and passports at US consulates and embassies throughout the world. As of yesterday, two thirds of consular posts are up and running again, sending visas and passports to anxious applicants. For some, this presented a small inconvenience or had no effect at all. Other families faced hardship, missing births of children and experiencing financial hardship with extended hotel stays.
Thankfully, the Department of State was able to proceed with humanitarian or emergency requests on a case-by-case basis during this outage. As of today, the system is back to 80 percent capacity. The impact that the shutdown will have on scheduling and visa issuance will be immediate.
Technical delays were to blame for a similar problem last year, although caused by a software instead of hardware failure. These issues raise three important points.
First, a visa applicant should never make travel plans until she has her visa in his or her hand. A consular officer may tell a visa applicant that everything looks all good to go at the interview, only to discover an important document is missing or illegible. In such a case, the officer will have to request the missing item and the visa issuance will be delayed. Although it can be disappointing to have to wait additional time to receive a visa, the government’s desire to have all details resolved is understandable. It is much easier to delay flight scheduling than pay twice.
The second point the technical failure raises is the distinction between the government’s systems and private systems. If a private company – let’s say a cell phone provider – experienced a two-week delay in providing a principal service, many customers would have jumped ship for another provider. Since we are working with the government, however, we have no choice but to wait. In the wake of this failure, advocacy groups have an opportunity to push for better systems throughout government organizations. (If you think this was bad, just talk to staff in the Immigration Courts about the inefficacy of their computer systems. It sounds like they just got rid of their dot matrix printers.)
Finally, having an attorney can be invaluable when unexpected situations arise. An immigration attorney that is abreast of developments can communicate the potential of visa issuance delays to a client. The client can then determine how to proceed, perhaps deciding to reschedule an interview, or simply being prepared for a longer-than-usual wait. Additionally, having an attorney ready to gather documents a consular officer unexpectedly requests at a visa interview can be a significant time saver. Wilson Law Group would love to be your guide through the visa process.