Shorter lines for visa applicants

A new electronic system for handling visa requests at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City is reducing the length of time the process takes as well as the frustration level of applicants and staff.

About 2,000 to 3,000 people seek visas to the United States each day at the embassy. Every applicant is interviewed and photographed, creating thousands of original documents daily. Until recently the color ID photos were attached to the applications, the information was entered into a master database, and the originals were stored in filing cabinets. Applications are rejected quite often because of the complexity of visa laws, so visitors and immigrants must return to reapply. In the old system when people reapplied, information was accessed from electronic files, but the original photo had to be found in the paper filing system. That could take 10 to 20 minutes, creating huge lines. Embassy officials wanted to find a quicker system that would provide electronic access to both the information and the photos.

“At first it seemed an impossible task,” says Jim Sundstrom of the U.S. Embassy. “The use of color photos is imperative for identification, and no one seemed able to capture color in a production environment.”

Eventually embassy officials chose a system that includes Kofax (kofax.com) Ascent Capture software and a Kodak (kodak.com) scanning technology. The system captures and stores the double-sided applications with photos for electronic access, and the information can be retrieved easily by name, date or ID number. Photos, handwritten information and signatures are instantly available for confirmation, according to Kofax.

“We are saving from three to five work hours a day in processing alone,” says Sundstrom. “The solution is a powerful anti-fraud tool, and we’ve streamlined the decision-making process for the officers involved.He adds that the success of the system has attracted the attention of officials at other embassies, and that his embassy has hosted a meeting for all consular officers from Latin and South America to observe the process firsthand.

“We’ve significantly shortened the processing time for issuing U.S. visas,” he says, “while providing the best service to our clients and adhering to non-immigrant visa laws.”

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