Forestalling / Shortening Background Checks at Consular Posts

When an international student or scholar needs to travel and obtain a new visa to enter the U.S., there is always the possibility of a background check at the consular post. Such background checks are usually concluded within 2-4 weeks, which can present a significant delay in the individual’s plans. Some background checks are conducted on the basis of the visa applicant’s nationality, and there is nothing we can do to influence those. Others, however, are undertaken because the applicant engages in research in a field of science or technology that is tagged for closer scrutiny based on the so-called Technology Alert List, and in those cases we have the opportunity to provide information to forestall or at least shorten the background check.

If the latter scenario applies, a letter presented at the time of the visa application can be helpful. The letter should

  • Be on letter head
  • Be written by the faculty member or PI supervising the research
  • Be directed to the Consular Official
  • Contain the following information:
    • A brief description of the research being conducted, written very much for a lay audience (who has no knowledge of the scientific concepts involved or the workings of a research institution)
    • A brief description of the student’s or scholar’s role in the research
    • A statement that the research is not sensitive or subject to export controls,
    • The offer to provide additional information if needed, and
    • The letter writer’s full contact information.

The letter should not address any other issues and should be no more than one page long. It should be provided to the student or scholar before he/she leaves the U.S. If the individual is absent from the U.S. for an extended period of time (months rather than weeks), the letter should be provided in advance of the visa appointment.

If you have questions regarding this process or any other visa-related matter, please don’t hesitate to contact our office. We can be reached at international-affairs@uchicago.edu or (773) 702-7752. Our front office secretary will forward your inquiry to the appropriate immigration adviser in our office.