Department of State Updates on Visa Processing and Consular Posts!
Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
Many around the world have dealt with the Trump Era processing delays and then Covid-19 Pandemic explosive delays in consular visa processing. Visa appointments getting cancelled, to not finding any availability, to waiting years to finally getting an interview, or getting stuck in limbo after the visa interview is done. Problems seemed to have persisted in both Immigrant and Non Immigrant Visa Processing, and what’s worse is that recovery has been and continues to be very uneven and there is NO UNIFORM DIRECTION FROM THE STATE DEPARTMENT. Below are a few updates which have come directly from the Department of State on backlogs and reduction in delays. While its not a resolution, there seems to be some hope for better days ahead. And this lawyer is also noticing more appointment availability.
The Department of State has been lowering visa interview wait times worldwide, following closures during the pandemic in certain countries and consular posts. The DOS has doubled hiring of U.S. Foreign Service Personnel and this year the agency believes that they will reach pre-pandemic processing levels.
Backlogs and Wait Times – History on How it Came to Be
The COVID-19 pandemic forced profound reductions in the Department’s visa processing capacity in two main ways. First, restrictions on travel to the United States, and local restrictions on public places like overseas consular waiting rooms, curbed the ability to see visa applicants. As most applicants are required by U.S. law to appear in person, these restrictions forced a reduction in the number of visa applications the Department could process.
Second, as revenue from the application fees that fund visa processing operations was cut nearly in half, the Department was forced to leave more than 300 overseas consular officer positions unfilled in 2020 and 2021. This further reduced the number of visa applications that could process.
Since COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, Ninety-six percent of embassies and consulates are again interviewing visa applicants, and are processing nonimmigrant visa applications at 94 percent of pre-pandemic monthly averages and immigrant visa applications at 130 percent. In the past 12 months (through September 30, 2022), the DOS processed 8 million non-immigrant visas.
During the pandemic, the Department of State coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security to waive in-person interviews for several key visa categories, including for many students and temporary workers integral to supply chains. In addition, applicants renewing nonimmigrant visas in the same classification within 48 months of their prior visa’s expiration are now eligible to apply without an in-person interview in their country of nationality or residence. This has already reduced the wait time for an interview appointment at many embassies and consulates. DOS estimates that 30 percent of worldwide nonimmigrant visa applicants may be eligible for an interview waiver, freeing up in-person interview appointments for those applicants who still require an in-person interview.
For Those Navigating Long Interview Wait Times
Although processing capacity is rebounding faster than projected, DOS acknowledged that visa applicants still face lengthy wait times at many embassies and consulates. The Department has stated that it urges any visa applicant who can travel to another embassy or consulate with shorter wait times to consider doing so. There is no penalty for applying anywhere appointments are available, even outside your home country.
While some of the information above is just cheerleading fluff to tout the DOS progress, it can still be helpful to understand where things stand in today’s world. If you or a loved one have any questions related to Visa Processing, please contact a well versed Immigration attorney who understands visa processing.