In November 2007, the US Department of State (DOS) rolled out the PIMS (Petition Information Management Service) program and announced that a PIMS record will be "primary source of evidence to be used in determining petition approval." Before a visa can be issued by a consular post, a consular officer must confirm petition approval with a positive PIMS records check. The following is an update on the current state of affairs of PIMS and an advisory as to what visa applicants can expect in the upcoming months.
What is PIMS?PIMS is a separate report within the Consolidated Consular Database (CCD), set up by DOS to provide posts with official, inter-agency, notification of H, L, O, P, and Q classification petition approvals, as well as additional information that DOS may choose to add about a petition, the petitioner, and the beneficiary. DOS created PIMS to end consular posts' reliance on paper USCIS approval notices supplied by visa applicants, which were subject to fabrication and alteration, and to enhance fraud detection. Data is entered into PIMS primarily by the State Department's Kentucky Consular Center (KCC). According to the PIMS cable, "The PIMS Petition Report contains a record of all petitioners recorded by KCC as having approved petitions since 2004." Note that not all petitions approved by USCIS were "recorded by KCC." Among those not "recorded by KCC" were I-129 petitions where the requested action was a change of status or extension of stay, and amended petitions.
For petitions for which a USCIS service center sent to KCC a duplicate copy of the petition and exhibits supplied by the petitioner, the PIMS record should include a full scanned copy of all documentation sent to KCC by a USCIS service center. The results of other checks, including fraud, criminal background, and immigration history and status (including SEVIS), may also be included in the PIMS report. A post must confirm a petition approval in PIMS before issuing a visa based on that approval. Where no petition record is found in PIMS, the cable instructs posts to notify the KCC by e-mail and request verification.
How and when does an application get entered in PIMS?
A case is entered into PIMS after a USCIS service center sends the case to the KCC. When PIMS was implemented in November 2007, DOS incorrectly had assumed that USCIS service centers forwarded ALL petition approvals to the KCC, including approvals on petition amendments, petition extensions, and petitions where a change of status was requested. That was not the case - USCIS service centers only sent KCC petitions where consular notification was indicated in box 5a of Part 2 of the I-129 form.
On March 21, 2008, USCIS and DOS agreed to a process where USCIS service centers would also forward to KCC for entry into PIMS approved petitions requesting extension of stay, change of status, or petition amendment, IF the petitioner submits an originally signed duplicate petition, with all attachments and exhibits, in addition to its original application.
While this process provided a solution for extension, change of status, and amended petitions filed from late March 2008 onwards, extension, change of status or amended petitions that were approved prior to late March 2008, or for which no duplicate original was filed, including petitions requesting consular notification where no duplicate original was filed, have not, as a matter of course, been sent to the KCC for scanning and entry into PIMS. Accordingly, those petition approvals may not be in PIMS at the time a visa applicant makes an appointment for his or her consular interview. As a result, visa applicants have been experiencing delays at consulates while petition verification (described below) is conducted by e-mail with the KCC.
DOS apparently has instructed all posts to implement procedures by which PIMS is checked for H, L, O, P, and Q visas before interview. Many posts have used their interview scheduling procedures to gather the petition receipt number before the visa interview. As resources are available, posts are to use the information to check PIMS before the interview, and at least begin steps to increase the chances that the verification of petition approval will be available through the Consolidated Consular Database (CCD) the time of interview.
It is not possible for a petitioner or beneficiary to send a petition directly to KCC for entry into PIMS, or to contact KCC directly to verify the existence of a positive approval record before an interview. When a post cannot verify petition approval through PIMS, the PIMS cable instructs the post to take specific action. If a petition is not in PIMS at the time of a consular interview (or in advance of the interview if the post checks), the consular officer is required to e-mail KCC, which in turn will research the approval in USCIS' CLAIMS3 electronic case system and, if able to confirm approval, make the details available through the CCD. According to the PIMS cable, this is to be accomplished within two working days. However, verification can take longer if the petition information was not sent to KCC by a USCIS service center, if KCC is backlogged in its data entry/scanning process, if KCC fails to timely notify the consulate of the verification, or if the consulate fails to check or follow up on positive verification that was sent.
Every visa applicant should be advised of the possibility of a range of procedural delays in visa approval and/or issuance. The chances of such a delay are increased if a visa applicant's extension, change of status, or amended petition was approved prior to late March 2008, or regardless of petition filing date, if the petitioner did not file a duplicate original with USCIS. Such applicants should be advised that their visa issuance may be delayed and that, while that delay should only be for two days, it could very well take longer.
Does an applicant need an original approval notice for visa issuance?
No. Since an application cannot be approved without positive approval confirmation in the CCD, the original I-797 A or B approval notice should not be required anymore at the time of the visa application interview. The State Department says: "However, the I-797 is no longer needed for the visa applicant's interview, since petition approval is now verified in the Department of State's system called Petition Information Management Service (PIMS)." (While an original approval notice is not required for visa issuance, it may be required by CBP when applying for admission at a port-of-entry.) AILA understands that DOS has instructed posts not to require approval notices for appointment scheduling or visa issuance, and it has apparently informally advised posts which had a practice otherwise, but, DOS has not shared with AILA copies of any cables or other instructions on scheduling. Further in the November DOS cable, DOS indicates that original approval notices can still be used to make appointments, thereby creating confusion.
How can we know if a visa was delayed for PIMS?If a post is waiting for PIMS notification to issue a visa, an applicant may not be directly informed that there is a delay related to PIMS, but rather, the applicant may be advised that the visa application is undergoing further "administrative processing," the language used by DOS when a visa is pending a security check (such as a "Condor," "Donkey," or "Mantis," etc.), or another phrase may be used. If you are seeking an H, L, or O visa ask at the visa interview whether the approval has been verified in PIMS. This will not do anything to speed visa issuance, but it may help to clarify why you are waiting for the visa stamp.