AILA Opposes Secure Visas Act

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
George Tzamaras or Jenny Werwa
202-507-7649 / 202-507-7628 /
Bill would increase visa delays and costs

WASHINGTON, DC -- Today, the House Immigration Subcommittee begins review of the Secure Visas Act (H.R. 1741), a bill that would radically change the way visas are processed by shifting significant authority from the Department of State (DOS) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and curtailing the power of courts to review decisions made by officers. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) opposes this dramatic reform as an untested approach that is likely to increase visa delays and costs without improving security at all.

"Why is Chairman Smith moving forward with this complete overhaul of the visa system when there's little evidence that it will make things any better?" said AILA President David Leopold with respect to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) who authored the bill. "I am not aware of any report showing that a visa system run by DHS would be better than the one we currently have which balances the roles and institutional expertise of both DHS and DOS. Though the current system is not perfect, it is far better than what we had ten years ago at the time of the 9/11 attacks." Today, an applicant for a visa must undergo rigorous security and background checks and in-person interviews before obtaining a visa. Even if the visa is granted, DOS and DHS can revoke it if security or other concerns arise.

Since 2003, DOS and DHS have shared the responsibility for visa processing, operating under a Memorandum of Understanding that carefully delineates roles and authority to ensure smooth functioning for each agency in its respective area of expertise. "The Secure Visas Act would eviscerate the MOU," said Leopold, "and give primacy to DHS over the development and execution of visa policy as performed by consular officers. In one move, the bill turns upside down the careful balance of foreign affairs, diplomacy and national security that State and Homeland Security have navigated for many years." Furthermore, greater costs and additional processing delays would likely result from provisions that give DHS authority to station permanent personnel in foreign consular posts to review and override decisions of State Department staff.

Finally, the Secure Visas Act eliminates judicial review over decisions by officers to revoke a visa. "Officers already have broad authority to revoke visas. Giving them unreviewable power assumes they never make mistakes," said Leopold. Visa revocations are already insulated from any judicial review when the visa holder is outside the U.S. The only area in which limited judicial review of visa revocations remains available is with respect to individuals who are in the U.S. and are placed in removal proceedings solely as a result of the revocation. "Eliminating judicial review for all visa revocations is unnecessary and unduly expands the already broad discretionary authority of the executive branch," concluded Leopold.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 11051161.