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 but 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 OIA or the University 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 (technologies with mulitple applications that can weaponized, such as radiology or ceramics), and in such 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 departmental letterhead
  • be written by the faculty member or PI supervising the research
  • be directed to the Consular Official

The letter should contain the following information:

  • A brief description of the research being conducted, written very much for a lay audience (who has little or 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 the visa interview.  If the student or scholar is at the University, is traveling abroad, and has to apply for a new visa before returning, the letter can be provided ahead of time in hardcopy before the individual leaves the U.S. 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 or (773) 702-7752. Our front office will forward your inquiry to the appropriate immigration adviser in our office.