Skift Take

Newly released estimates on the impact to the economy from visa wait times are a bad sign for a recovering travel industry — and clearly the blame is growing against a State Department that shows no signs of resolving the unprecedented delays.

Protracted delays in issuing visas are stifling the much-needed travel recovery in the U.S., newly released estimates show.

The U.S. Travel Association, the leading lobby group for the industry, estimates the delays by the U.S. State Department in issuing visas could prevent 6.6 million people from traveling to the U.S. next year, resulting in a loss of $11.6 billion in spending, its economists reported on Thursday.

What’s more, Morning Consult surveyed over 900 Brazilian, 1,000 Indian and 490 Mexican adults from September 12 to 16.  Brazil, India and Mexico are outside the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Citizens from those countries must apply for a B1 and/or B2 visitor visa in order to temporarily stay in the U.S. ​​Among the respondents, 88 percent, 90 percent and 86 percent of Brazilian, Indian and Mexican respondents said they have not ruled out visiting the U.S.

Among visitors who have applied for visitor visas in other countries, over half of Brazilians, nearly half of Mexicans and over three-fourth of Indians said the U.S. visa process is more cumbersome than other countries.

The visa wait times are hampering the U.S.’s competitiveness, the economists said. An estimated 61 percent of Brazilian, 66 percent of Indian and 71 percent of Mexican tourists said they would likely choose another country to visit if visa wait-times exceeded a year.

Not only does it deter aspiring tourists to the U.S. the visa process pushes away tourists. About 36% of Brazilians, 44 percent of Indians and 86 percent of Mexicans said the visa wait time is one reason why they didn’t choose the U.S. as one of their top destinations to visit.

“Outrageous wait times send a message to travelers that the United States is closed for business,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman.

The survey results come as wait times for visitor visas continue to explode. Wait times for visitor visas exceed 400 days for first-time applicants from top source markets, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

An appointment wait time for a visitor visa in Mexico City is 641 days and 347 days in Rio De Janeiro. The U.S. Mission to India started to resume processing routine in-person visitor visa appointments last month.

All these hassles translate into a loss of billions in spending for the U.S.’s travel industry.  USTA projects the loss of tourists from Brazil, India and Mexico equate to $5 billion in 2023.

The travel association added: “The U.S. Department of Commerce’s newly released National Travel and Tourism Strategy identifies inbound travel as an economic priority and sets a national goal of welcoming 90 million international visitors by 2027. The State Department’s lack of urgency on this issue is in direct conflict with the Commerce Department’s objectives.”


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Photo credit: Popular destinations in the U.S., like San Francisco, are being hurt by long visa delays. Bjorn Bakstad / Getty Images

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