Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Visa Petitioners: Big Brother May Be Contacting You!

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) may soon be contacting petitioners at random to verify petitioner information!

We know about the Vermont Service Center (VSC) and the California Service Center (CSC), but have you ever heard of the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC)? KCC is a DOS facility that provides domestic support to the worldwide operations of the Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office. KCC provides consular posts with official interagency 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, petitioner and beneficiary.

After USCIS approves a visa petition, it sends the approval to KCC, which must enter it into a database before a foreign consulate can issue a visa to an artist. (This is why original approval notices are no longer needed during the visa process—though we continue to recommend strongly that artists bring copies of their petitions and approvals with them to the consulate.)
KCC recently started a pilot program to verify information contained in the approved nonimmigrant visa petitions it receives from USCIS. The information relates to the petitioner, the artist or group, and the artist or group’s proposed U.S. activities. These checks will be done primarily by telephone by a KCC contractor who will contact the petitioner. The checks will be unannounced and random. They should occur shortly after USCIS transfers the petition to KCC.

If You Receive a Call from a KCC Contractor:

  • Don’t panic!
  • Ask for the contractor’s name and confirm its credentials with KCC (call 606-526-7500) before providing any information. Multiple governmental agencies may audit a given petition, so find out which agency is seeking information in case follow-up is needed.
  • Try to contact counsel immediately if contacted by a KCC contractor.
  • Don't panic!
  • Do not speak with government agents or contractors without a witness present.
  • Retain complete copies of the I-129 petitions and supporting documentation you filed and review this documentation before speaking with the contractor.
  • If the contractor asks for information you cannot provide accurately without further research, say so! Do not “guess” about any information provided during the call. If unsure about some requested information, tell the contractor you will follow up with accurate information. This is especially important if you do not have immediate access to information being requested by the KCC contractor and are unable to call on someone else to answer the questions during the call.
  • Remember that any information obtained during the call and subsequent nonimmigrant visa interview can later be used to deny a visa (even where USCS has already approved the petition) and/or can be referred to USCIS and ICE for further investigation.
  • Don't panic!

Be prepared to provide the following information:

  • Whether you, in fact, submitted the petition;
  • If a business, when you were incorporated (or otherwise founded);
  • Your physical location;
  • Number of employees;
  • Names of shareholders (if a stock corporation);
  • Location of attorney of record (if represented in the petition);
  • General information regarding your operations and business.

What You Can/Should Do Ahead of Time:

  • Be prepared for an unannounced telephone call by an authorized contractor.
  • Have a policy for handling such calls.
  • Ensure that all relevant records are up to date and information is easily accessible.
  • Maintain full copies of each petition, including all forms you sign.
  • Determine who can speak with a contractor on your behalf.
  • If you typically rely on others to serve as your petitioner, make sure they are aware that this may be contacted by KCC.
  • If you receive advance notice of such a call, consider contacting FTM Arts Law immediately.

At this point, we can only hope that this pilot program, and whatever ensues, does not affect the timing of visa issuance to petition beneficiaries, but, unfortunately, we cannot be sure this will be the case. We will make every effort to update you as soon as we have more information as to how this new scheme is actually impacting the arts community.

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