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US visa processing in crisis midway through 2022

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Washington DC-based thinktank, the Cato Institute, claims that US visa processing delays have hit their worst point since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. An analysis of the latest US State Department data shows that wait times for US student visa interviews are averaging 49 days as of July 2022 – five times longer than average wait times pre-pandemic.


Meanwhile, applicants for US business and tourist visas are waiting a staggering 247 days on average, compared with just 17 days pre-COVID. Cato’s analysis reveals that the issue is simply a ‘backlog of visa files that have accumulated in US consulates and embassies across the world amid closures during the pandemic’.

The Cato Institute referenced a recent update from the US Embassy in Kenya, which explained: “Due to COVID-19 health and safety measures, non-immigrant visa interviews at the US Embassy in Nairobi ceased for over a year. The Embassy restarted interviews at full capacity in February 2022. 

“As we work through the backlog of applications and address the high demand for services, we recognise that some applicants may face extended visa interview wait times. This is a worldwide problem that US embassies are diligently striving to address.”


Processing times vary widely

The State Department data also shows that US visa processing times vary widely, not only by visa class, but also by diplomatic post. As of July 2022, some examples of differing processing times for US student visas include:

  • Dhaka – 551 days 

  • Istanbul – 428 days 

  • Abu Dhabi – 310 days

These three US embassies in particular are experiencing astonishing wait times.

Meanwhile, those applying for US student visas at the following embassies and consulates are experiencing wait times below pre-pandemic levels, including:

  • Ho Chi Minh City - 6 days

  • Bangkok -  7 days 

  • Beijing - 2 days

Cato’s associate director, David Bier, said: “These statistics do not include what amounts to a shadow backlog of applicants seeking to renew their temporary visas. The State Department has waived the need to obtain an interview for most travellers who had previously held a visa in the last four years. But consulates are implementing this policy in very different ways.”

“Some consulates simply allow renewal applicants to submit their paperwork via mail. Others require applicants to drop off in‐​person. Others often still require applicants to be interviewed regardless,” Bier added.


Biden administration urged to act

Amid ever-increasing US visa processing delays, the Biden administration has been urged to act to relieve backlogs. Cato’s analysis highlights that there is ‘precedent for executive intervention when wait times become excessive’.

The Cato report states: “The last time visa wait times grew above a few months, then‐​President Obama ordered that 80% of all temporary visas be issued in less than 21 days. 

“This executive order (and the knowledge that it was coming) promptly brought visa wait times down to a few days, but former President Trump rescinded the order, and President Biden has failed to re‐​issue it,” the report adds.

However, the Cato Institute report did acknowledge that US visa processing delays are not unique, saying that other major countries are dealing with visa backlogs also.


Other countries struggling with visa processing delays

On the same day that the Cato Institute’s analysis was published, the UK High Commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, apologised for the massive delays faced by those applying for a UK visa from India. 

In a video message on Twitter, Ellis said: “Most of you are getting visas to go to the UK within 15 working days, but there’s a long tail of complex cases which are taking much longer.”

Explaining the delays, Ellis said: “UK visa delays are occurring, first, because of the unprecedented surge in demand for UK visas post-COVID. Secondly, because of global events, particularly the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

“However, we have a plan of action. We’re bringing in more resources and training more people, while keeping open the priority visa service.”

Meanwhile, in June 2022, The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in India held discussions with Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, the UK and USA about streamlining student visas for Indian nationals amid ongoing processing delays. can help with US employment-based visas

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