Security Advisory Opinion


Security Advisory Opinion

Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) or Washington Special Clearance,cite web
url=http://foia.state.gov/masterdocs/09FAM/09G0500.PDF
title=Washington Special Clearances (Security Advisory Opinions), 9 FAM Appendix G, 500
work=U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9 – Visas
date=2006-08-16
accessdate=2007-11-05
publisher=United States Department of State
format=PDF
] commonly called security clearance, administrative clearance, or administrative processing,cite web
url=http://turkey.usembassy.gov/niv_security.html
title=Security Clearance Status for Non Immigrant Visa
publisher=Embassy of the United States in Ankara, Turkey
date=2007-11-02
accessdate=2007-11-09
] is a process the United States Department of State and the diplomatic missions of the United States use in deciding to grant or deny a United States visa to certain visa applicants. The process involves sending a request from the visa issuing post to the Department of State's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to investigate an individual's case for possible espionage, terrorism, and illegal export of technology out of the United States.cite web
url=http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/othertstmy/32993.htm
title=Visa Processing Delays: Testimony before the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform
date=2003-07-10
accessdate=2007-11-05
publisher=United States Department of State
author=Janice L. Jacobs
]

Apart from the Department of State, the process involves other agencies of the federal government of the United States, specially those under Department of Homeland Security. Some of the agencied involved are: FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Interpol, and the Department of State's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.cite web
url=http://web.mit.edu/scholars/administrators/visadelays.html
title=Visa Delays and Department of State Security Clearances
author=MIT International Scholars Office
publisher=Massachusetts Institute of Technology
year=2004
month=June
accessdate=2007-11-05
]

SAOs have been the source of long delays for determining if a non-US citizen should be issued a US visa or not. As a result, United States Government Accountability Office found in a report dated February 2004 that "students and scholars with science backgrounds might decide not to come to the United States, and technological advancements that serve U.S. and global interests could be jeopardized" as a result.cite web
url=http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04371.pdf
title=Border Security: Improvement Needed to Reduce Time Taken to Adjudicate Visas for Science Students and Scholars (GAO-04-371)
author=Jess Ford
coauthors=John Brummet
year=2004
month=February
publisher=United States Government Accountability Office
accessdate=2007-11-05
format=PDF
]

In mid-2003, SAOs were submitted for about 2% of the applicants. The Department of State processed 245,000 SAOs in FY 2006, and has processed over a million SAOs in the period from September 2001 to May 2007. [cite web
url=http://judiciary.senate.gov/print_testimony.cfm?id=2733&wit_id=6432
title=Testimony of Andrew Simkin Director, Office of Fraud Prevention Programs Bureau of Consular Affairs U.S. Department of State
author=Andrew Simkin
publisher=United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
date=2007-05-02
accessdate=2008-01-02
]

Types

There are various types of SAOs, usually named after various animals, with two named after legendary characters. As of August 2006, these included Visas Mantis (potential illegal transfer of sensitive or dual-use technology,cite web
title=The Land of CLASS, TIPOFF, Mantis, Condors, and Donkeys: Demystifying Security Advisory Opinions, Biometrics, and Government Databases Involved in the Consular Processing Framework
url=http://www.wolfsdorf.com/articles/CLASS%20TIPOFF%20Final%20Article.pdf
author=Tien-Li Loke Walsh
year=2005
month=June
work= [http://www.ailapubs.org/imnatlawhan2.html Immigration and Nationality Law Handbook, 2005-06 Edition]
format=PDF
] introduced in 1998cite web
url=http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2005/42212.htm
title=Extension of Validity for Science Related Interagency Visa Clearances
date=2005-02-11
publisher=United States Department of State, Office of the Spokesman
place=Washington, DC
accessdate=2007-11-05
] ), Visas Bear (for foreign government officials, representatives to international organizations, and their families), Visas Donkey (name hits, certain nationalities), Visas Merlin (for refugees and asylees), Visas Eagle (certain nationals of Cuba, China, Iran, Russia, and Vietnam), Visas Condor (certain nationalities, introduced in January 2002 [cite web
url=http://travel.state.gov/law/legal/testimony/testimony_797.html
title=Testimony on Foreign Students and Scholars: Foreign Students and Scholars in the Age of Terrorism
author=Janice L. Jacobs
date=2003-03-26
accessdate=2007-11-05
publisher=United States Department of State
] ), and Visas Hawk (for immigrant visas). There are also other types of SAOs used for notifying the Department of State about visa issuance and that the applicant will be traveling to the United States: Visas Horse (diplomatic visa holders of certain nationalities) and Visas Pegasus (officials of Commonwealth of Independent States).

Issuing time and validity period

The Department of State claims that 80% of SAOs are cleared within two weeks, but the general expected time for a clearance is unknown.cite web
url=http://cifss.rutgers.edu/pdfs/Travel--SAO_explanation.pdf
title=Information about Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs)
author=Larry Bell
format=PDF
publisher=Rutgers University
accessdate=2007-11-05
] While various diplomatics posts mention some average times (the website of the at United States embassy in Ankara, Turkey mentions up to six to eight weeks), this only reflects the recent experience of the post, and does not reflect actual statistics.

The Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual (which is a reference for diplomatic posts), dated August 16, 2006, mentions: cquote| [...] posts can expect a wait of a minimum of twenty (20) business days to receive responses, although some responses will arrive well within that time frame. However, complicated cases can take some time to resolve, particularly if there are other U.S. Government agency concerns to consider.

According to a report by the United States Government Accountability Office, as of November 30, 2004, 87% of Visas Mantis cases (one of the various kinds of SAOs) has been cleared in 30 days or less, 5% were taking 31-60 days, 5% were taking 61-90 days, 1% were taking 91-120 days and the final 2% were taking more than 120 days.cite web
url=http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05198.pdf
title=Border Security: Streamlined Visas Mantis Program Has Lowered Burden on Foreign Science Students and Scholars, but Further Refinements Needed (GAO-05-198)
author=Jess Ford
coauthors=John Brummet
year=2005
month=February
publisher=United States Government Accountability Office
accessdate=2007-11-05
format=PDF
] The average time was 15 days, which was significantly reduced, as the same report mentions that during October 2003, the average was 75 days. On February 11, 2005, the Department of State mentioned that it "has been able to decrease the average time to obtain Visas Mantis clearance to less than 14 days".

The validity of the clearance (which specifies a deadline for the time a visa could be issued) is based on its type, and ranges between three and 48 months. During the period of validity, posts can usually issue another visa for the applicant without requesting a new SAO if the applicant's circumstances haven't changed much.

References

External link for further reading

* cite web
title=The Land of CLASS, TIPOFF, Mantis, Condors, and Donkeys: Demystifying Security Advisory Opinions, Biometrics, and Government Databases Involved in the Consular Processing Framework
url=http://www.wolfsdorf.com/articles/CLASS%20TIPOFF%20Final%20Article.pdf
author=Tien-Li Loke Walsh
year=2005
month=June
work= [http://www.ailapubs.org/imnatlawhan2.html Immigration and Nationality Law Handbook, 2005-06 Edition]
format=PDF


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