United States Non-Immigration VisaImmigrating to the United States is a complex procedure. It has become even more complex with the introduction of online processes to streamline alien information for security purposes. And if our knowledge of what to do when petitioned by a relative is limited, the problem becomes real.

Believe it or not, but the problem comes too often to a lot of Filipino families who have waited decades for their visas to become available.

The situation is simple, but heartbreaking. After 20 years or so, the visa of a married sibling (whom we will call Angie) of a US citizen with eight children (three of whom have already ‘aged out’) have become current but after four years, the National Visa Center (NVC) cancels the visa because Angie failed to process her visa for her and her family.  Why? Because Angie did not know it was already available for processing.

Angie and her family, for the last 20 years, have been moving from Leyte to Cebu and Zamboanga, looking for greener pastures, and finally they were able to settle in one of those places.  Angie, not cognizant of any of the immigration rules, never informed NVC that she has moved from one address to another in the last 20 years.

The processing of an immigrant visa for those being petitioned outside of the United States is a two-prong method: (a) the first step is for one’s relative, either a son or a daughter,  parent or a spouse, a brother or a sister, to file a petition before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based in the US. This office will decide whether to approve the petition or not; (b) the second step is for the petition, once approved, to be sent to NVC.

The NVC is a facility based in the United States and an office under the Department of State (DOS) that is assigned to pre-process the approved petitions before they are sent to the respective U.S. embassies (also under DOS) for further processing once the alien-applicants are ready to be interviewed.

The NVC is the agency in which the papers and forms are put together so that when these are sent to the U.S. embassies for final disposition and utilization during the interview of the applicant, the process goes smooth, fast and orderly.

The establishment of the NVC assures a more centralized body to look into, evaluate and assess alien information before the petitions are sent to the respective U.S. embassies.  The approved petitions stay with the NVC until these are ready or “available” for processing.

There is a “waiting time” or “priority dates” because there are many US visa applicants and naturally, those “first in line” will have to be entertained first.  There is no waiting time, however, when the petition is for immediate relatives, i.e., minor children (under 21) or for a parent when the visa is immediately available upon approval.

Waiting time varies depending on the type of petition that is filed.  The longest waiting period of from 10 to 25 years pertains to petitions of unmarried children over 21 and married children filed by parents who are U.S. citizens or petitions of siblings filed by fellow siblings who are U.S. citizens.

NVC sends notices of visa availability for processing to the last known address on record to the beneficiary or applicant. Thus, it is important at all times to inform NVC by email, phone call or by regular mail of any change of address and keep proof of receipt by the NVC.

In the event that the beneficiary or applicant changes her address and fails to notify NVC, it is not NVC’s fault anymore if the applicant misses the notice and fails to process her visa. The visa is already available for processing but he/she did not receive the news that she has been waiting all along!  Still NVC waits for a while and gives the applicant a chance to respond to the letter-notice, but not for long.  NVC then sends a termination letter.

Under DOS rules, NVC is required to notify the applicant and give her one year to show that it was under “circumstances beyond her control” why she was not able to process her visa (Section 203[g] INA).

November 8, 2014 marks the first anniversary of typhoon Haiyan. Thousands of people in several towns perished.  Districts are still under the process of being rebuilt, and addresses are perhaps being retained or reassigned.  People being petitioned for immigration need to be informed about the NVC rules.