Lowering US visa wait times part of new tourism strategy

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Lowering US visa wait times for international visitors will form part of a new US National Travel and Tourism Strategy, which aims to attract 90 million tourists a year to America by 2027. The strategy was unveiled at the annual IPW convention in Orlando, Florida, which was attended by nearly 5,000 travel delegates from 60 countries.


Assistant secretary of commerce for industry and analysis, Grant Harris, announced the strategy to delegates as he revealed that the 90 million visitor target would top pre-pandemic totals of just under 80 million recorded in 2019.

The US travel and tourism industry was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic with international arrivals plummeting to just 19 million in 2020 and 22 million in 2021 – 460,000 of which were visitors from the UK.


Lots of work ahead

Speaking just prior to the US officially ending pre-departure COVID-testing, Harris said: “A lot of work awaits, but the Biden administration must start taking steps to significantly reduce US visa wait times.

Amid ongoing US visa backlogs in the aftermath of the pandemic, visa processing is currently taking up to five weeks depending on the type of visa that people are applying for. 

The first two months of 2022 did see a significant rise in the number of international visitors heading to the US with a 174% leap compared with the same period in 2021. 

Across the US tourism industry, many have questioned whether international visitor numbers would ever return to the levels seen pre-pandemic. However, some have challenged the predication that travel to the US would not recover for another three years.

One commentator said that it will be quicker than three years, arguing that while the tourism sector was the most disproportionately affected by the pandemic, it will be one of the fastest to recover from it.


US Commerce Department

According to Harris, the US Commerce Department’s economic development administration has already begun distributing $750 million to support travel, tourism and outdoor recreation. 

Four key pillars have been outlined, including promotion of the US as a top travel destination, facilitating travel to the US – by shortening visa waiting times – and within the US, ensuring diverse, inclusive and accessible travel experiences, and supporting resilient and sustainable travel and tourism practices.

Harris said: “We want to work with the travel and tourism sector to make sure that it comes back even stronger, creating jobs and fostering sustainable growth with communities across the country for years to come.”

“Entry into the US will also be made easier because the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are taking steps to streamline US visa and immigration processes.”


US embassies and consulates struggling

Despite Harris’ optimism, some tourism industry bosses have highlighted continued US visa backlogs at embassies and consulates around the world. In recent months, the State Department website has shown that embassies and consulates are only offering emergency appointments.

Meanwhile, the Ukraine-Russia conflict has exacerbated delays as immigration officials prioritize applications made by Ukrainian nationals.

In April, new measures were announced by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) director, Ur Jaddou, to tackle US visa and immigration backlogs.


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