Wait times for US visas can be 8 months. Groups of travelers demand measures : Travel Weekly
WASHINGTON — The travel industry is calling visitor wait times for U.S. visas, which have fallen from an average of 17 days in March 2020 to 247 days this summer, “shameful” and an obstacle to a full resumption of travel .
Concerns have been raised at the US Travel Association Conference on the future of travel mobility here last month, where panelists decried waits of over 500 days in some markets just to get a visa interview.
Every day a visitor waits “is a day they might decide to go somewhere else,” said William Hornbuckle, CEO of MGM Resorts, citing wait times in Mexico of up to 556 days. “People don’t come when they have to wait 556 days.
“There is an urgent need to increase consulate staff, expand virtual visa processing, and hold the State Department accountable for reducing processing times,” Hornbuckle said.
Geoff Freeman, the Newly appointed CEO of US Travelsaid reducing visa wait times is a top priority for US Travel.
“Waiting times for visas right now, to put it bluntly, are shameful,” he said. For “people who want to do nothing but come here, spend their money, and go home with a better sense of America, there’s absolutely no excuse to keep them waiting this long to do so” .
A Cato Institute report in July refers to a “waiting time apocalypse” for tourist and business visas of 247 days on average, compared to 17 days before March 2020.
“This is a staggering eight-month wait to visit the United States for a period of at most 90 days and typically much less than that,” the report’s author wrote, citing figures showing that in July, more than half of consulates were planning tourist and business traveler interviews for six months or more, and 27% were planning for a year or more.
Impact on incoming groups
The National Tour Association (NTA) has also said reducing extreme visa wait times is among its top priorities. Catherine Prather, president of the NTA, encouraged members to contact their representatives on the matter.
“What a lot of people may not understand is that while leisure travel has recovered and actually exceeded 2019 levels, the package travel recovery has lagged,” said Prather. “And many of our international and inbound visitors are experiencing the United States as part of a package or group.”
Prather gets first-hand experience of how visa wait times impede travel: At least four tour operators who wanted to attend the NTA’s Travel Exchange conference in November are unable to secure appointments you for visa interviews on time.
“It’s a loss for them, for our American businesses, our economy, and for travelers who would have had the opportunity to explore all we have to offer,” she said.
Prather recently met with State Department officials to discuss what is being done. “I know they understand our pain points,” she said, but added that the target given to her to be fully staffed by the end of 2023 is not soon enough. .
Travel advisors who book international travelers for domestic tours are also affected. Craig Hsu, vice president of Travel Design USA, which specializes in Asia, has decided to abandon his business of obtaining visas for customers coming to the United States due to the time it takes to process them.
“We decided, strategically, for our business model, that it was probably best not to do that at this time,” he said. “We had to call and call and be on hold and it just took us too long. With the feedback we got, we weighed it and decided it wasn’t worth it.”
Why are the waiting times so long?
Like many slowdowns and hiccups in travel, Covid is at least partly to blame.
A State Department official said the pandemic has caused “deep reductions” in its visa processing capacity.
“Many of our embassies and consulates were only able to offer emergency services at times,” the official said. “Some of our embassies and consulates are still facing Covid-19 related restrictions, and many continue to face staffing issues that began during the pandemic.”
Freeman acknowledged that embassies around the world face the same labor issues that businesses have at home, but he added that those issues cannot “become an excuse.”
“Everyone in the industry is suffering from a labor issue,” he said. “But guess what? These hotels are operating at over 90% occupancy. Look at the airlines, look elsewhere. They have to find a way to make it work. Labor shortages can’t become an excuse. For those wait times that are exponentially worse than they’ve ever been before, find the solution.”
Freeman said US Travel has long encouraged the use of videoconferencing to conduct visa interviews and for years “heard every excuse in the book” for why it can’t work.
“Our entire planet went to video conferencing during the pandemic. And it worked,” he said.
He pointed to a time under the Obama administration when wait times had increased to over 100 days in China and Brazil.
The travel industry helped convince the administration to take the necessary steps to lower expectations, and the State Department has made it a priority, he said.
“We need that same kind of leadership in the State Department today,” he said. “We need a clear message from the White House that this is unacceptable. This is an area that badly needs attention.”
State Department: Things are looking up
According to the State Department official, the situation is improving.
“We are reducing wait times for appointments in all visa categories as quickly as possible, worldwide,” the official said. “In fact, visa processing is rebounding faster than expected, after an almost complete shutdown and resource freeze during the pandemic.
“The wait time for a routine visa appointment in half of our overseas posts is less than four months, and in some posts it is much shorter than that,” the official said. , adding that those visas are at 80% of pre-pandemic levels and “steadily growing.”