WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (PTI): The US visa processing is rebounding faster than projected and is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels in Fiscal Year 2023, the State Department has said, addressing the growing concern over backlog of visa applications from countries like India.
The State Department said it was committed to facilitating legitimate travel to the United States while safeguarding national security.
“The Department of State is successfully lowering visa interview wait times worldwide. We have doubled our hiring of US Foreign Service personnel to do this important work, visa processing is rebounding faster than projected, and in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 we expect to reach pre-pandemic visa processing levels,” it said in a media note on Thursday.
Giving the reason behind delays, it said many applicants for US visas are required by the country’s law to appear in person. However, local pandemic-era restrictions on public places like our overseas consular sections curbed our ability to see visa applicants.
“This reduced the number of visa applications the Department could process. Now that most countries have lifted restrictions, ninety-six per cent of our embassies and consulates can provide routine visa services,” it said.
“The combination of pent-up demand from the past two years combined with regular seasonal demand has resulted in extended wait times for US visa interview appointments in some locations – most notably for first-time visitor visa applicants and immigrant visa applicants in some countries,” it added.
As of November 2022, the median worldwide wait time for a tourist visa (B1/B2) interview appointment is about two months, and applicants with urgent travel needs who meet certain criteria can apply for an emergency appointment, usually available within days, it said.
External Affairs minister S Jaishankar in his meeting with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September raised the issue of the backlog of visa applications from India to which the top American diplomat said he is sensitive to the matter and has a plan to address it.
“We are committed to continuing our progress and further reducing visa interview appointment wait times as quickly as possible,” it added.
The State Department said in the past year, it has made great strides in returning to pre-pandemic visa processing levels and in reducing appointment wait times.
“We are waiving in-person interviews where possible while safeguarding national security,” it said.
“We have significantly reduced wait times at many embassies and consulates by working with the Department of Homeland Security to expand our authority to waive in-person interviews for certain non-immigrant visa categories and for many renewals while still ensuring national security,” it said, listing what it has done so far.
Almost half of the nearly seven million non-immigrant visas we issued globally in FY 2022 were adjudicated without an in-person interview, it said.
“We have exceeded pre-pandemic levels of processing in key visa categories that support the US economy. We issued 40 per cent more H-2 visas for seasonal agricultural and non-agricultural workers in FY 2022 than in FY 2019,” the media note said.
This effort increases legal immigration pathways, reduces irregular migration to our southern border, improves supply chain issues that contribute to inflation, and safeguards our nation’s food supply, it said.
“As of the end of FY 2022, we were already processing 94 per cent of the non-immigrant visas we processed in FY 2019, and 130 per cent of immigrant visas compared to FY 2019 monthly processing averages,” it added.
The State Department said it continues to add more consular staff abroad, but in the meantime, it has implemented efficiencies to do more work with fewer resources, all while safeguarding national security.
“We are working as a global team. We have used innovative technological solutions to electronically redistribute non-immigrant visa workloads from overseas posts with high visa appointment wait times to other posts with additional capacity,” it said.
Each day, for example, US consular officers in different parts of the world remotely adjudicate thousands of non-immigrant visa applications for applicants from countries with long interview wait times who do not require an interview, it said.
“This has allowed our consular officers in those countries to focus on first-time and other visa applicants who do require an interview. We are providing greater transparency to visa applicants.”
The dedicated staff of the Department of State will continue these and additional efforts to address the unprecedented demand, so the American people and US economy benefit from keeping our doors open to lawful visitors, it added.
Indians make up a large proportion of the recipients of H-1B and other work visas granted to skilled foreign workers, many in the tech industry.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
According to travel.state.gov reports on October 31, there is an average 900+ days’ wait time for appointments for visitors’ visa (B1/B2), an average 400 days’ wait time for students (F, M, J) and an average 300 days’ wait time for petition-based temp workers like H, L, O, P and Q across the US consulates in India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata).