Does An Artist Need An Original Visa Approval Notice?

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.   

Dear Law and Disorder:

Does a conductor who has been approved for an O-1 visa need to bring the original approval notice to the consulate or will a color scan of the original work? We have been getting conflicting information, including a representative at the consulate telling us on the phone that he would also need the original to enter the US. We are also concerned because when we try to schedule his appointment at the consulate we keep getting locked out of the system. Is this because we need the original or a different approval number than the one we have? 

Like any large institution, the various branches and agencies of our government are populated both with dedicated, intelligent employees who do exemplary jobs under stressful and demanding circumstances as well as with lower level invertebrates who slithered in searching for food and mysteriously found themselves employed. Sadly, you appear to have been given information from a fruit fly.

The conductor’s visa petition needs to be approved by the time of his visa appointment, but he does NOT need to bring the original approval notice with him. When a petition is filed, USCIS will issue a petition receipt notice. The receipt notice will contain a receipt number—beginning with “EAC” if it was filed at the Vermont Service Center or beginning with “WAC” if it was filed with the California Service Center.” You can use that receipt number to schedule an appointment at the consulate.

Once the petition is approved, USCIS will issue an approval notice. (As I mentioned in a recent post, be prepared to wait longer for approval notices from both services centers these days. Vermont Service Center is currently taking 30 – 60 days for standard processing of O and P petitions!!!!) The approval notice will contain the same number as the receipt number. At the time of the interview, the Consular Office will use the receipt/approval number to confirm that the petition has been approved. While, in ages past, the consulates used to require the physical approval notice, that system was replaced over 5 years ago with an on-line verification system whereby the consulate can confirm an approval using the receipt/approval number and accessing the USCIS petition approval verification database. However, be forewarned that it can take up to three days between the date of the approval and the approval itself being entered into the database. Bringing a copy of the physical approval notice will not help bridge this gap. Under the new system, the consulate is not allowed to issue a visa until they have confirmed approval in the database. In other words, the physical approval notice has been rendered obsolete.

Although we continue to recommend that an artist bring a copy of the approval notice (or the original, if available) to the appointment for reference, neither the original nor a color print out of the scanned original is necessary. While, occasionally, the folks manning the switchboards and appointment lines of some consulates tell people to bring the original approval notice, the US State Department has repeatedly re-affirmed that this is not mandatory and the Consular Officers themselves are well aware of this. As for being told that the original is required in order to enter the US, that, too, is pure misinformation.

If you are experiencing an error in the on-line system, it has nothing to do with your approval notice. Rather, it is due to the fact that government contracts for software design and maintenance are too often meted out to the lowest bidder. I suspect you are the victim of a software glitch on the consulate’s website, which is not in the least uncommon. Just wait and keep trying.


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