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What do these two sections mean in the United States visa?

American Visa (from the Google Images)

  1. Asterisks (stars) below a photo.
  2. Some kind of binary mask of size 4. On this photo, it is 0111 in the right middle part of a visa.

Most sources say that it's a "risk" indicator. However, it sounds strange for me - why would someone disclose such a confidential information while it can be stored in a private database for restricted users.

If you have any information, please, help to solve this mystery and quell my curiosity.

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+50

First, note that these features appear only on nonimmigrant visas; immigrant visas have a completely different format and do not contain either the asterisks or the four-digit number.

I strongly suspect you will probably never find out what these mean as the purposes of these fields are most likely classified. Direct questions put to U.S. consular officials about the stars and four-digit number have, as far as I can tell, never gotten a straight answer. They have gotten evasions such as "not of any significance" and "the stars on a U.S. visa are among the normal features of a U.S. visa."

Officially, the features do not exist. Guidance on the US State Department web site does not acknowledge their existence:

Annotated image of a sample US nonimmigrant visa

Based on a survey of images of US visas found on Google, I believe these features were introduced sometime between 1999 and 2000. I was able to find visas issued in 1999 without the features, and visas issued in 2000 with the features, including this well known visitor who never left.

Visa issued to Mohamed Atta

In issuing visas, consular posts follow rules laid down in chapter 9 of the Foreign Affairs Manual, in which the US State Department's procedures are laid out. These are based on various sections of the Code of Federal Regulations.

In the case of issuing nonimmigrant visas, this is covered by 9 FAM 41.113, which tells consular officers how to issue a visa in accordance with the regulations at 22 CFR 41.113. The relevant section is the very first one:

9 FAM 41.113 PN1 INFORMATION ABOUT THE MACHINE READABLE VISA (MRV)

The information on the MRV is printed on an adhesive foil and consists of five sections that:

  1. Reflect the applicant’s biographic data;
  2. Contain information about the visa itself (visa type, number of entries, date of issuance, and date of expiration);
  3. Show the 88-character field used for annotating additional information about the recipient, when necessary; (e.g., annotation of a petition number, SEVIS number, etc.);
  4. Display a digitized photo of the visa recipient; and
  5. Contain a machine-readable zone (MRZ) consisting of two lines of highly sensitive coded data. Scanners connected to authorized computer networks can read the data located in the MRZ and instantly recall records associated with the MRV. Damage to either line may prevent the scanner from reading the data, requiring manual data-entry before processing, which could lead to delays at ports of entry. You should instruct MRV recipients to take care with their MRVs, avoiding folding the foil, and preventing contact between the foil and objects that could damage it, such as paper clips, staples, etc.

Note that no mention is made here, or anywhere else in the unclassified parts of 9 FAM, about the asterisks or the four-digit number. Those parts of the visa do not appear to be relevant to whether the visa holder is of any particular concern to US authorities. In particular, it does not appear to indicate that the visa holder poses any particular level of "risk". This also appears to be the opinion of various immigration lawyers.

After reading a lot of other sections of 9 FAM and 22 CFR, and some versions at archive.org going back to before 2000, I am pretty well convinced that while these features do serve a purpose, that purpose is classified and appears only in a classified section of 9 FAM, if at all.

One last thing I can tell you for sure is that the four digit number is not binary. Numerous examples can be seen on Google Images of visas with four-digit numbers containing digits other than 0 or 1, though these appear to be far less common.

  • 1
    +1, stunningly good answer. Very grateful for the authoritative references... – Gayot Fow Aug 22 '15 at 15:51
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    @pnuts Since this is a common enough question, it is obvious that consular officials would have to have some response to it. I know from my own experiences that the sort of responses officials have given for the question indicate that something is being concealed. I also know from experience that the most likely reason for a government official to conceal something in this manner is that it's classified. – Michael Hampton Aug 27 '15 at 2:50
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Officially, from the US Embassy, the answer is:

Q: The space below the word 'Annotation' is blank, with the visa number printed in red to the right. There is a star or * symbol below the bottom left of my photo, does that signify anything?

A: The star symbol is not of any significance.

Of course, a cynic would then ask why they're there...

Another person online who claims to be a consular official states that:

"Wow, you have a keen eye! :) Those are computer-generated features that help make each visa as unique as the people who obtain them"

Similarly, the 0111 is expected to be a checksum by most.

  • 1
    Thanks for the link, I had been wondering if it was ever possible to not get two asterisks and the number 0111. When I was studying in the US, I and some other exchange students were wondering about that, there were about 15 of us from about as many countries, and we all had two stars and 0111. – fkraiem Aug 19 '15 at 9:28
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    I agree that this is an authoritative answer. I think the FAQ is lying. They don't put stuff on the portrait page that has no significance. It doesn't mean you are wrong. It means there is no way to know the truth about it. – Gayot Fow Aug 19 '15 at 9:34
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    +1 for you. Suggest that the OP not accept and we put a big time bounty on this one :) BIG TIME BOUNTY so that we can motivate somebody to get to the bottom of these patronizing lies. :) I can afford 50 if that's of any use. – Gayot Fow Aug 19 '15 at 9:40
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    @Eoin In that case, though, there would be no reason for the number of asterisks to vary between different people. The FAQ looks like a "Nothing to see here... move along" answer. – reirab Aug 19 '15 at 16:23
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    It could be some sort of "version number" for the visa. Maybe future visa have different or additional fields, new security features or a different layout. This way the scanner would know in which place to look for things like "first name", or where a security feature such as a watermark or some UV light signature should be located on the visa. – iHaveacomputer Aug 20 '15 at 3:59
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Well, this is my Hypothesis (for B1/B2 visas):

NOTE : My hypothesis is based on some visas i had seen/observed, further more observations are needed to verify this

  • The person is sponsoring the family has/had some source of income then the number will be 0100 and there will be no whitespace between the two stars.
  • The person has a source of Income but is not sponsoring the family then the number will be 1010 and no whitespace between the two stars.
  • The person has no source of income and is dependent on the sponsor then the number would be 1000 and there will be a whitespace between the two stars.
  • The person is an adult but has no source of Income and is being / will be sponsored by a family member then the number would be 1001 and there will be a whitespace between the two stars.
  • The person is a minor, has no source of income and is being / will be sponsored by a family member then the number would be 1001 and there will be only One star instead of two, in other cases
  • 1
    In one of the answers to this thread, someone has mentioned in an Q&A with US Embassy, that "it is of no significance" . This means it is not possible to get answer form a person with some authority, as they would be bound to not provide this information. Further, we can find out what the number and star configurations mean exactly after looking at several visas. My hypothesis is based on some visas i had seen/observed, further more observations are needed to verify this – Rutvik Patel May 18 at 6:51

protected by Michael Hampton Jun 20 at 21:16

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