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Security Advisory Opinions

What is a Security Advisory Opinion?

Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs) are created in response to a request by a U.S. consulate for a background security check on a foreign national who is applying for a U.S. visa. There are several different types of SAOs as explained below.

When a foreign national applies for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad, the applicant’s name is run through a name-check system referred to as the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS). Any existing problems in an applicant’s background that are known to the U.S. government cause the applicant’s name to be flagged for the consulate’s attention.

What Factors Trigger an SAO?

A U.S. consulate has the discretion to request an SAO regardless of whether or not the applicant’s name was flagged in CLASS. However, U.S. consulates request SAOs in the following circumstances:

  • the applicant's name is flagged in CLASS;
  • an applicant received an unfavorable SAO in the past;
  • the applicant is a national of a country not recognized by the United States or with which the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations;
  • the U.S. interviewing U.S. consular officer has knowledge or a reasonable ground to believe that the applicant is ineligible for admission to the United States because of national security concerns (for example, the consular officer believes that the applicant might be involved in the transfer of sensitive technology designated by the Department of State (DOS)’s Technology Alert List (TAL))1;
  • the applicant is a national or employee of a State Sponsor of Terrorism.2

In addition to the above triggers, applicants who are citizens of, born in, or have some strong connection to one of the following countries (often referred to as “the list of 26”) are also subject to an SAO:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Dijbouti, 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.3

Types of SAOs and Related Visa Processing Delays

There are nine types of SAOs. Most relevant to non-immigrant visa applicants are the Visas Mantis, Visas Donkey, Visas Eagle, and Visas Condor.

Visas Mantis

A Visas Mantis is requested if the U.S. consulate suspects that the applicant is engaged in the illegal transfer of sensitive technologies or information that relates to sensitive technologies, or if the applicant is likely to have exposure to such technologies while in the U.S. A specific nationality is not required to trigger this SAO. Sensitive technologies are listed on the DOS Technology Alert List. Applicants with advanced degrees (usually Ph.D. degrees) in certain sciences tend to be targeted for these types of SAOs. The Visas Mantis typically takes two to three weeks to clear. Once issued, a Visas Mantis SAO is valid for 12 months if the applicant is returning to the same organization for which the applicant worked/studied when the SAO was initially requested.

Visas Donkey

A Visas Donkey is requested when there is a direct "hit" on the visa applicant's name in the CLASS system. This type of SAO is requested if, for example, the applicant's name is a direct match to that of a known terrorist. It is impossible to know whether or not an applicant will be subject to this particular SAO unless the person has been subjected to one previously. The Visas Donkey SAO request can take months to process, and there tends to be no predictable period within which this kind of SAO request is resolved. . Once a Visas Donkey SAO is issued, it is valid for three months.

Visas Condor

The Visas Condor is generally requested for applicants who are nationals of predominantly Muslim countries. This list has been referred to as the "list of 26" because there are 26 countries for which a Condor SAO is usually requested (see above). These SAOs are valid for three months and generally take about a week or two to clear.

Visas Eagle

The Visas Eagle is requested for applicants from countries that have been designated as state sponsors of terrorism. This SAO is in the same tier of review as the Visas Condor SAO so many Eagle SAOs taken one to two weeks to be resolved. Once issued, the Visas Eagle is valid for 12 months.

Repeat SAOs and Caveat About SAO Validity

Internal DOS guidelines provide that SAOs can be reused for another visa, as long as the visa is applied for within the validity period of the SAO and as long as certain conditions are met (essentially no major changes from the former application and/or no additional flags on the name). On the other hand, recent guidance from a government official indicated that when applying for a different visa or a new visa, a new SAO will be requested by the U.S. consulate. The bottom line is that the U.S. consular officer has discretion to request an SAO for anyone and is obligated to make such a request in the above listed circumstances.

1 While several secondary sources have published the Technology Alert List, its accuracy is not ascertainable given its classified status. The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual states that "[t]he TAL is generated by the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation . . . and is distributed to [U.S. consulates] by cable and published as 9 FAM Appendix A, 700 on the [Consular Affairs] classified intranet website."

2 Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria are currently on the DOS State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

3 This list is derived from a secondary source. The Foreign Affairs Manual declares this information to be classified.


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