Visa interview wait times reach new highs: 247 days for Visitors/Business Travelers

Figure 1 shows visa interview wait times since April 2021. At that time, 76 percent of consulates were fully or partially closed to nonemergency nonimmigrant visa appointments. In July 2022, student visa interviews are backlogged 49 days—five times the wait pre‐​pandemic. Temporary work visas are backed up 75 days—up from 12. But the wait times apocalypse has come for tourists and business travelers: 247 days—up from just 17 before March 2020. This is an astounding 8‑month wait to visit the United States for a period of at most just 90 days and usually much less than that.

 

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Figure 2 shows that in July 2022, 52 percent of consulates were scheduling tourist and business traveler interviews 6 months or more out. 27 percent were scheduling a year or longer away. In Santiago, applicants can expect to wait 886 days, or 2.5 years. This should not be a huge surprise. The consulates simply refused to do their jobs for 2 years. Aside from the huge blow to tourism, business travelers cannot plan business meetings or investments if they have no way to get their personnel to visit key people or projects. This will further harm foreign investment.

 

 

The outcomes at each individual consulate vary dramatically. Table 1 shows the current wait times for an interview and then the number of visa issuances in 2022 through May and the same period in 2019. These visa issuances include visa renewals that mostly do not require an interview, but even still, they reveal massive variations between consulates. Monterrey, Mexico has nearly doubled its issuance rate from 2019 to 2022, while Ho Chi Minh City has declined by half.

 

 

The situation for immigrant visa applicants (i.e. those seeking to become permanent residents) may be even worse. As I’ve explained before, the State Department publishes no accessible data on immigrant visa appointment wait times for new legal permanent residents. But it currently has a backlog of 433,819. In May, it issued just 42,096 immigrant visas, implying an average wait of 10 months for an interview. But since consulates prioritize certain types of applicants over others (for instance, spouses of U.S. citizens), it is likely that many others will wait much longer than that.

 

 

These statistics also do not include what amounts to a shadow backlog of applicants seeking to renew their temporary visas. The State Department has waived the need to obtain an interview for most travelers who had previously held a visa in the last 4 years. But consulates are implementing this policy in very different ways. Some consulates simply allow renewal applicants to submit their paperwork via mail. Others require applicants to drop off in‐​person. Others often still require applicants to be interviewed regardless.

The last time visa wait times grew above a few months, then‐​President Obama ordered that 80 percent of all temporary visas be issued in less than 21 days. This executive order (and the knowledge that it was coming) promptly brought visa wait times down to a few days, but former President Trump rescinded the order, and President Biden has failed to re‐​issue it. There is no reason to wait for this crisis to worsen. Figure 4 shows the tourist and business traveler visa interview wait times in Brazil. They reached a high of 114 days in 2011, but were brought down to 2 days by mid‐​2012.

 

 

As I explained in my paper on the effects of 9/11 on the immigration system, the visa delays after 9/11 caused a major shift in foreign direct investment. The Commerce Department explained that the “presence or perception of delays in obtaining the necessary visas can give an international investor the impression that it may be difficult to finalize or oversee an investment in the United States.” Even delays of a few days can matter.

The State Department is failing to fulfill its responsibilities under immigration law. The huge wait times are distorting the U.S. economy, its labor market, and international investment. They are harming U.S. businesses who need consumers and workers. They are keeping Americans and immigrants from being able to visit with their families. It is an embarrassment to our country, and it is completely unacceptable. Congress should investigate this failing department and require it to process visas in accordance with the law.

(This article first appeared on Cato.org on July 19, 2022)

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