The U.S. State Department is working non-stop to bring about improvements in the visa application situation at its consular posts across the globe. One of the ways it does this is by appointing additional staff. Despite this, there are often still unacceptably long waiting periods to get an interview appointment or to get an application processed.
Several countries are, however, already seeing the benefits of the additional hires at American consulates throughout the world. Below we provide an overview of what the situation currently is and what to expect from here on.
The United States publishes visa processing statistics
Since the pandemic-related travel ban came to an end a few months ago, United States consulates have been struggling to cope with the large backlog in applications that could not be processed during the pandemic combined with a surge in new visa applications.
The U.S. Department of State has now released the latest numbers from U.S. agencies to provide more insight into the current situation.
Between January and September 2022, American consular posts have had to process nearly 70% more non-immigrant visas than a year before. That equates to around 800,000 applications for non-immigrant visas at American overseas missions during this period.
Although this figure still only represents around 80% of what application levels used to be before the pandemic, the large number of new applications being received places a lot of pressure on U.S. consulates that, despite recent improvements, are often still understaffed.
There is also some good news though: at the present moment, close to 95% of immigrant visa applications submitted during the pandemic have been processed.
Staff numbers at U.S. Consulates are increasing
The American State Department also announced that it is gradually trying to boost its consular officer numbers across the globe before 2022 draws to a close. One example is that it has already hired around 50% more new staff members in its overseas consulates this year than in 2021.
The end goals are to restore visa processing capabilities to the same levels that existed before the pandemic, speed up visa application processing times, and reduce the current long waiting periods to get a visa interview appointment.
The reason for all the effort (and money) put into this is only partly altruistic. The truth is that, particularly when it comes to processing work visa applications for skilled employees, this will greatly benefit the United States where there is currently a shortage of these workers. It is, of course, also crucial to make sure that students will be able to commence with their studies on time and that families are not forced to deal with protracted periods of separation because of delays with their visa applications.
In European countries, for example Germany, the appointment situation keeps changing virtually on a daily basis, depending on the visa category and the location. Protracted waiting times for interview appointments in respect of business or tourist visas are currently still more the norm than the exception. Even in June this year, the first available appointment for a B-type visa interview at an American consulate in that country was as late as the spring of 2023.
A week or so ago, the appointment scheduling situation in cities like Munich, Frankfurt, and Berlin started easing slightly. Right now, people who are applying for a visitor visa stand a chance of getting an appointment for an interview within the next month or two. It is, however, always worth the effort to check out the online profile of the consulate just in case other applicants cancel their appointments or the consulate is able to schedule appointments earlier.
Travelers who are planning a trip to the United States in the not-too-distant future and who require a B-visa should always try to make their visa appointments as early as possible since the appointment situation is currently very fluid and can change at short notice.
The waiting period to get an appointment for other types of visas, e.g. E and L-Blanket ones, is at the moment somewhere in the region of 4 to 6 weeks.
As things stand right now, individuals who are able to visit the United States without having to apply for a visa (for example, they only need an ESTA) should regard themselves as very lucky. The United States only allows citizens of around 40 nations across the world to visit its territory for tourism or business purposes without a visa. Everyone else has to apply for the relevant type of visa.
The application process for a U.S. visa commences with the applicant filling out the DS-160 form online, paying the appropriate visa fee, and getting an appointment for a visa interview at his or her nearest American consulate.
Embassy appointment waiting times as long as 24 Months
Although there has been an improvement in the waiting periods for processing U.S. visa applications in certain parts of the world, applicants from countries such as Colombia, India, Brazil, Chile, and Canada still have no choice but to wait longer than two years before they can get an appointment for a U.S. visitors visa.
Apart from the types of visas discussed above, individuals who apply for an F-1 student visa and applicants who urgently require work visas are still facing long delays when applying at the U.S. consulates in their countries.
Particularly young people who would like to extend their visa so they can complete their studies in the U.S., or who have qualified for a scholarship to continue their studies in that country, are often placed under severe pressure by the long waiting times involved in getting an appointment at a U.S. consulate. Those who apply for work visas and the companies who would like to employ them are often facing a similar situation.
It should not come as too much of a shock to hear that, in many American consulates, the situation is currently worse than it was just after 9/11 when the whole U.S. consular system basically ground to a standstill for a while. Even during that crisis, however, U.S. authorities only needed a relatively short period of time to process backlogs.
The two years the pandemic lasted created havoc in the system. Most of the smaller U.S. consular offices offered only emergency appointments during that period and are now slowly starting to return to their former service levels. There is, however, good reason to believe that things will soon start to improve.
The U.S. visa application system should now start returning to normal
Let us end this discussion on a positive note. Things are likely to improve from here. Quite a few American consulates have already announced that their visa application procedures have been simplified. An example of that is the ability of certain applicants to submit postal applications.
In the meantime, nearly all American embassies and consulates have returned to pre-pandemic service levels. Earlier in September, for example, the U.S. embassy in India resumed routine personal appointments for tourist visas as well B-1 and B-2 business visas.
These improvements are, however, not yet available at all U.S. consulates. For this to happen, more time and a lot of patience will be needed. It is very likely that the gradual improvement in staffing will within a reasonably short time make a positive difference in those countries that still have to deal with long waiting times to get appointments.