Administrative Processing is when an application for a visa is put "on hold" by the consulate that is adjudicating the case. This describes the status of the case, while the consulate is waiting on further documentation and evidences, or is conducting its own research, or is conducting internal reviews of the application, or is waiting for answers and confirmations from various police and government authorities.
Administrative Processing (AP) may last from a few days, to a few years.
Administrative Processing is the label used by the State Department to describe the situation when a case has had its interview, but visa issuance is delayed.
It could be held up due to the applicant, forgetting to bring all required documents to the interview, a suspicious consular officer asking for more evidences ( 221(g) denials), a problem in the consulates visa printing process (like the NVC Computer Failure of June 2015: No Visas for 14 days), the consulate performing further investigations to verify details or search for fraud, or to request a Security Advisory Opinion that queries databases of various government law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
No "Standard" expected completion time.
As the possible causes of Administrative Processing are so broad, there is no "standard" for how it will take. It can take from weeks, to years to be resolved.
Avoid Applicant Caused Delays
Administrative processing can be triggered by an applicant forgetting to bring all of the required documents to the Interview. In a recent case Sasha forgot to bring her American fiance's most recent tax return the interview. The consular officer said "Everything is ok. But before we can issue the visa you must first provide the missing document." She rushed the requested documents to the consulate, but the passport and visa did not arrive and the consulate wouldn't provide any updates. Unfortunately, she had already booked her flights. She missed her original flight, but was able to rebook. When that departure date arrived, she still didn't receive her visa, still got no updates and finally lost her ticket price.
Administrative Processing is typically Low Priority
Depending on the consulate, resolution of a missing document AP case, is often treated as a low priority. Sometimes many weeks go by before the visa is finally issued. It is not clear if that is what happened in Sasha's case, because soon after her interview the Department of State's NVC computers failed. For her it was the perfect AP storm, one delay let to another. She is still waiting on her visa.
Security Advisory Opinion the REAL "Black Hole"
Administrative Processing caused by consular requests for Security Advisory Opinions (SAO) is trully a black hole, and is where delays may be counted in years.
SAO Administrative Processing can be triggered if the applicant's name is spelled similar to someone else's name, who is on a terrorist, criminal, or military watch list, or comes from a country commonly subject to AP delays, or is involved with High Tech, or is or has been a member of the Communist or a totalitarian party, or has family members who themselves might trigger any of the above causes.
SAO APs by Country of nationality
A national of the following countries, may be commonly subject to SAO administrative processing: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, or Yemen.
Book Flights AFTER Visa not Before
Remember, when applying for your Fiance or Spouse visa, EXACTLY how long it will take to get the visa is impossible to forecast. I can tell you estimates for AVERAGE processing times, but the exact time in your specific case, will be unique. Do refrain from purchasing air travel or making deposits until your visa has actually been received and checked for typos.
By Fred Wahl
the Visa Coach