Consular Processing Goes Green
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During the past several years consular processing has undergone a rapid change and evolvement. Immediately following 9/11, the subject of improving national security moved to the forefront of priority for the United States. Consequently, enhanced security checks as well as inter-agency data sharing resulted in consular processing becoming a difficult task. The result was problems and delays with visa processing that could often involve a backlog of applicants waiting an undetermined amount of time for their visa applications to be processed. During the intervening years, the system for consular processing has slowly begun to become more streamlined. The newest trend is an effort to 'go green' with a reduced reliability on paper documents and a move toward a fully electronic system that is more efficient. The new system has resulted in opportunities to create a more efficient processing of visas. At the same time, it is designed to retain the same important enhanced security measures with an increased emphasis on internal agency information review. New procedures that have been implemented include an electronic Petition Information Management System. Other additions include a facial recognition system and a digital ten-fingerprint capturing system that can be utilized at consular interviews. The new system has also made it easier to develop an interlocking network for the purpose of data sharing between various consular posts as well as within the three branches of DHS that handle matters related to immigration; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement.
Coordination between Government Agencies
Increased levels of coordination between various government agencies has also resulted in a more streamlined visa application procedure, resulting in a reduced number of false hits as well as an improved security check processing time. One of the benefits of this improvement is that it has made it possible for visa applicants as well as employers to develop an improved level of predictability regarding consular processing times. While the consular processing system has undergone numerous changes in an effort to become more transparent, the Department of State is poised to make a move to their own paperless system. The new system involves the concept taken from the Consular Application Center and features e-signatures, a Smart Form and inter-agency data sharing. Security concerns remain a priority for the United States as the country struggles with the continual dilemma of balancing the need for legitimate international travel needs with the continual security risks the country faces. Globalization has resulted in an increased frequency and necessity of travel to the U.S. by foreign nationals. At the same time, it is also important for visa processing to be handled in a manner that is timely and accurate. The changes that have been made to the consular processing system may very well be a step in the right direction toward creating the much needed balance between efficient and timely processing and the need to make sure important security measures are followed for the protection of the nation as a whole.