Border Security: Improvements Needed to Reduce Time Taken to Adjudicate Visas for Science Students and Scholars Page: 2 of 15
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Accountability- Integrity- Reliability
Highlights of GAO-04-443T, a testimony
before the Committee on Science, House
Why GAO Did This Study
Each year thousands of
international science students and
scholars apply for visas to enter the
United States to participate in
education and exchange programs.
They offer our country diversity
and intellectual knowledge and are
an economic resource. At the same
time, the United States has
important national security
interests in screening these
individuals when they apply for a
visa. At a House Committee on
Science hearing in March 2003,
witnesses raised concern about the
length of time it takes for science
students and scholars to obtain a
visa and about losing top
international students to other
countries due to visa delays. GAO
reviewed 1) how long it takes a
science student or scholar from
another country to obtain a visa
and the factors contributing to the
length of time, and 2) what
measures are under way to
improve the process and decrease
the number of pending cases.
GAO is making a recommendation
to the Secretary of State, in
coordination with the Director of
the FBI and the Secretary of
Homeland Security, to develop and
implement a plan to improve the
security check process known as
Visas Mantis to avoid unnecessary
delays in visa issuance. State
commented it had taken some
action to improve the Visas Mantis
process and it would study our
recommendation to make further
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Improvements Needed to Reduce Time
Taken to Adjudicate Visas for Science
Students and Scholars
What GAO Found
State Department (State) cannot readily identify the time it takes for a
science student or scholar to obtain a visa. State has not set specific criteria
or time frames for how long the visa process should take, but its goal is to
adjudicate visas as quickly as possible, consistent with immigration laws and
homeland security objectives. GAO found that the time it takes to adjudicate
a visa depends largely on whether an applicant must undergo an interagency
security check known as Visas Mantis, which is designed to protect against
sensitive technology transfers. Based on a random sample of Visas Mantis
cases for science students and scholars sent from posts between April and
June 2003, GAO found it took an average of 67 days for the security check to
be processed and for State to notify the post. In addition, GAO's visits to
posts in China, India, and Russia in September 2003 showed that many Visas
Mantis cases had been pending 60 days or more. GAO also found that the
way in which Visas Mantis information was disseminated at headquarters
level made it difficult to resolve some of these cases expeditiously.
Furthermore, consular staff at posts GAO visited said they were unsure
whether they were contributing to lengthy waits because they lacked clear
guidance on when to apply Visas Mantis checks and did not receive feedback
on whether they were providing enough information in their Visas Mantis
requests. Another factor that may affect the time taken to adjudicate visas
for science students and scholars is the wait for an interview.
Average Time Frames for Visas Mantis Adjudication Process, April to June 2003
Applicant Post State
calls sends completes
post for Visas Visas
a visa Mantis Mantis
interview request clearance
waits and is notified that
at post Visas Mantis process is complete
0 7 14 21 28 35 42 49 56 63 70 77 85 92
2 weeks or within
I more I 67 days I a week I
Source: GAO analysis of State Department documents and visa operations.
While State and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials
acknowledged there have been lengthy waits for visas, they report having
measures under way that they believe will improve the process and that they
are collaborating to identify and resolve outstanding Visas Mantis cases. In
addition, State officials told GAO they have invested about $1 million to
upgrade the technology for sending Visas Mantis requests. According to
State officials, the new system will help to reduce the time it takes to
process Visas Mantis cases.
United States General Accounting Office
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United States. General Accounting Office. Border Security: Improvements Needed to Reduce Time Taken to Adjudicate Visas for Science Students and Scholars, text, February 25, 2004; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc291606/m1/2/: accessed March 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.