US Embassy explains visa system

The Consular Section of the US Embassy in Kingston wishes to correct misleading and inaccurate reports circulating about the Department of State’s worldwide online visa appointment system and other consular practices.

In order to inform and better serve the Jamaican public, the following points are addressed in this release.

Online appointment system

The Consular Section is working at full capacity with the resources allotted by the US State Department. Since 1 October 1, 2007, more than 86,000 nonimmigrant visa interviews have been conducted, with an approval rate of over 60 per cent. The embassy adds thousands of new appointments each month via the visa appointment website.

The high and growing demand for nonimmigrant visas is the reason for long waits for appointments. The fact that an average of 10 per cent of applicants who book visa appointments do not appear for them also contributes to the wait by taking appointment slots that cannot be rescheduled at the last minute.

The embassy regularly opens appointments on the Department of State’s worldwide online system, which is an electronic calendar that shows available dates and times. The number of appointments made available is closely linked to anticipated staffing and overall capacity, both of which can vary depending on reassignments, illnesses, and unpredictable events like severe weather.

It is a myth that there are no appointments available until next year. Many thousands of dates for the balance of calendar year 2008 from September onward will be released in due course.

When the Consular Section releases new opening for appointments, it varies the time of day and day of the week at which this is done. The appointments are not released at exactly the same time whenever they are made available.

Application fee

The visa application fee receipt is valid for one full year after date of issue. The fee is required by US law, and is the same throughout the world. The embassy has never been shown any example where an applicant has not been able to secure an appointment well within that time period. The claim that the embassy is taking money for a service that it does not provide is baseless.

There is no connection between the time when the fee is paid and when the interview will occur. In some emergency situations, the fee is paid as late as the day of the interview. In other instances, the interview may occur months after the fee is paid.

Emergency appointments

Only the embassy can grant and confirm emergency appointments. This service is not outsourced to any person or company, nor does the embassy levy any additional fee for granting an emergency appointment. Any person or business claiming that they can produce an expedited appointment is in all likelihood just closely monitoring the embassy’s website and hoping for the best.

The embassy routinely schedules 50 or more emergency appointments daily for students, exchange visitors, business travelers and those with an urgent need to travel for medical and humanitarian reasons (see details below).

Emergency appointments are granted only for the following reasons:

• Verifiable illness or death of an immediate family member (only the applicant’s parent, spouse, child, or sibling).

• A verifiable need for emergency medical treatment (including a second person needed for support, such as a parent caring for an ill child).

• Short-notice business travel (substantiated with a detailed description from the employer of the need to travel, the nature of the urgency in the US and a credible explanation for inability to anticipate the urgent travel and schedule a regular appointment).

• Student or education exchange visitors needing to report to school programs on short notice (letter from receiving institution required).

Failure to plan well ahead for personal travel in the US is not an emergency.

Requests for emergency appointments must be made online to [email protected]. Any applicant with access to a computer can apply at no charge; it is not necessary to pay a person or business to apply for an emergency appointment. Requests in person, by fax, letter mail, or telephone to any other section in the embassy cannot be accommodated.

Any person or business that charges for assistance in obtaining an emergency appointment can do nothing more than monitor the embassy’s appointment system for an opening, or send an e-mail to the embassy’s website ([email protected]) along with every other applicant. No person or business is ever supplied by the embassy with appointments to sell or otherwise allocate on the embassy’s behalf.

Security and fraud

Security measures on the online appointment system are state-of-the-art. While no system yet invented is completely tamper-proof, it should be noted that unscrupulous persons do not need to hack into the system in order to schedule multiple appointments. This is unethical manipulation of a public service rather than hacking. The scheduling of multiple appointments contributes to the waiting time for new appointments and serves no purpose.

Fraudulent appointment letters are routinely detected by consular section employees. Persons who purchase these letters from visa fixers and present them a the consulate will not only be denied visas, but may be subject to a permanent visa ineligibility denying entrance into the United States for life. They will also be reported to Jamaican authorities for criminal prosecution.

The embassy urges citizens who have convincing proof of tampering with the appointment system or any attempt to demand money for visas to inform the embassy at [email protected].

Telephone calls

The Consular Section cannot accept telephone calls because the large and growing number of calls exceeds the section’s ability to answer phones. In order not to create an unrealistic expectation that a phone call will be answered, all information sought by applicants has been placed on the embassy website.

Other sections in the embassy are not able to answer questions concerning visas and have been instructed to courteously refer all callers to the embassy website at .

Consular access

The purpose of the online appointment system is to let every applicant know the exact time they will be interviewed. Bona fide applicants with an appointment date and time in-hand should arrive at the embassy not more than fifteen minutes before or after a scheduled interview time. Individuals who insist on coming many hours before their scheduled appointment times gain nothing and do themselves a disservice.

While the embassy does not provide parking for visitors, ample commercial parking is available in lots close-by.

Walk-in visa renewals

The walk-in plan for visa renewals will be started again when it becomes possible to admit large numbers of applicants without appointments in a safe, orderly manner. The embassy could not continue to offer this service because some individuals endangered the safety of the majority of those waiting. There is no definite date for the re-introduction of this program. Any system that is put in place must rely in large measure on the responsible behavior and cooperation of those using the walk-in service.