Due to heightened concern for national security, international faculty, scholars, and students seeking U.S. visas:
often encounter lengthy delays due to the imposition of additional security clearances (Visa Mantis Check) related to the Technology Alert List (TAL). The purpose of this is to protect national security by preventing the export of "goods, technology, or sensitive information" through activities such as "graduate-level studies, teaching, conducting research, participating in exchange programs, receiving training or employment, or engaging in commercial transactions."
When a student or scholar applies for a visa, the Consular Official must make a decision about whether the research area fits within one of the categories of the TAL. If the Consular Official is unsure about whether the research area fits into the category or has concerns, he/she may send the visa application to the Department of State in Washington D.C. for advisory assistance. In general, this review may take 1-7 months depending on the case. Foreign nationals may be denied a visa if their proposed activity is subject to U.S. technology transfer laws.
Foreign nationals in F-1 and J-1 status should carefully assess whether or not visa renewal is necessary as they may remain in the U.S. with an expired visa if they are still pursuing the same objectives and all of their other immigration documents are valid (e.g., passport, I-20 or DS-2019). Please note however that individuals with expired visas would not be eligible to travel outside the U.S. and gain re-entry unless the travel was to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent Island and they were eligible for automatic visa revalidation.
If foreign nationals who appear to be subject to the Visa Mantis Check intend to renew their visa they should be prepared to provide the Consular Official with as much information as possible (from the applicant and relevant academic department) regarding their academic endeavors in addition to required visa application materials (F-1 Students, J-1 Exchange Visitors) and any other materials required by a foreign national’s home embassy.
From Academic Department
An advisor or supervisor of a current or prospective student or scholar who must apply for a U.S. visa should consider providing additional support as noted below including a letter addressing the TAL issue (as related to an individual’s course of study and research) in support of the foreign national’s visa application. Additional support includes:
An effective support letter will directly address the TAL issue and clearly illustrate how the research is or is not related to sensitive areas listed in TAL. Address the letter to "Dear Consular Officer," and explain the nature of the student or scholar's research in layman's terms. Avoid using overly-technical language. If the nature of the research is theoretical, this should be clearly stated. If the research is applied, the application should be explained. An advisor should address TAL categories to offer an informed opinion as to whether the research fits into it or not. The letter should also indicate: 1)goals of student's research and any practical applications and 2) sources and amounts of any U.S. government money (or funding from U.S. corporations assisting the U.S. government) to be used to support that research. In some instances, applicants have been asked to obtain a letter that describes any export-controlled technology and/or information that will be shared with applicant however there does not appear to be a CA/VO policy to ask these questions. This letter should be addressed to the appropriate consulate. Contact information is available on the US Department of State embassy webpage.
A foreign national applying for a U.S. visa should obtain the following:
Once a foreign national’s visa application is sent to the Department of State for review, there is little that can be done. An advisor or supervisor may wish to contact a U.S. Congressional representative for assistance. However, even with congressional intervention, national security needs may outweigh the advisor or department's concern about delayed arrival of a student or researcher.