What is a Security Advisory Opinion?
When applying for a U.S. visa, a foreign national must undergo a lengthy screening process conducted by a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. Consular Officers are fist in line to determine if the applicant meets the eligibility requirements of the visa. Though Consular Officers are highly trained to make eligibility determinations, there are some instances in which they must defer to the U.S. Department of State in making a determination.
If a Consular Officer suspects that the applicant may pose a security threat to the U.S., the determination will then be made by the U.S. Department of State. It is under this circumstance that the Consular Officer will make a request to the Department of State for a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO). A SAO is a security clearance investigatory process typically used to detect for espionage, terrorism, or illegal transport of technology. They have also been used for extra screening of refugees.
What triggers a Security Advisory Opinion?
There are a number of reasons as to why a SAO might be triggered. First off, when a foreign national seeks to obtain a visa, the applicant’s name is entered into the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS). CLASS allows the Consular Officer access to any known background information about the applicant. Additionally, CLASS will flag the applicant if anything of concern is on their record. If the applicant is flagged, the Consular Officer will submit a SAO request.
A Consular Officer will also issue a request for a SAO for foreign nationals from certain countries. For example, a SAO request is mandatory for applicants who are nationals of states that sponsor terrorism. They are also requested if the national is from a country not recognized by the U.S. or if that country does not maintain diplomatic relations with the U.S. Lastly, a SAO will be requested if the applicant is a national or has strong connections with a nation included on the List of 26. This list is classified, however, secondary sources report that the list includes Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
If the Consular Officer suspects that the applicant poses a security concern as defined by Section 212(a)(3)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, he or she will likely issue a SAO request. Section 212(a)(3)(A) considers foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. in order to participate in unlawful spying or sabotage, unlawful export of goods, technology or other unlawful activity inadmissible to the U.S.
Lastly, a new SAO request will be issued if the applicant has ever previously received an unfavorable SAO.
What happens next?
Processing time for an SAO vary depending on the type of concern. If the SAO reports that the applicant does not have any security-related concerns, the Consular Officer may then proceed to adjudicate the case. If the SAO reports that there are security-related concerns, the Consular Officer will deny the visa application.
If you are planning to apply for a visa, please contact our office today to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys!