Global average wait times for U.S. visitor visas dropped below 150 days in January for the first time since 2021, according to the U.S. Travel Association. They still, however, remain higher than 400 days for India, Brazil, Mexico and top inbound visa-requiring markets (excluding China).
In 2022, aspiring tourists from the top ten inbound countries outside the U.S. Visa Waiver Program couldn’t travel to the U.S. because they had to hundreds of days to get a visitor visa (B-1 and B-2) interview at their local U.S. embassy. The primary reason was inadequate processing staff amid released pent-up demand. The delays could cost the travel industry an estimated $12 billion in 2023 and cause international travel not to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, according to the U.S. Travel.
The recent wait time reductions have been due to the State Department’s new processing initiatives. The department’s “Super Saturdays” initiative has had embassies and consulates remain open on Saturdays to process visas. This past Saturday, for example, the consulate at Monterrey, Mexico, cut interview wait times from 545 days in mid-December to (still high) 407 days. The administration’s wavering of interview requirements for low-risk renewals of visitor visa and other categories have also helped.
Visa wait times remain absurdly high for many international tourists. In Mumbai, India, for example, wait times fell from 999 days in mid-December to 623 days—that’s more than a year and a half.
The State Department expects interview wait times will fall to under 120 days and its embassies and consulates will be fully staffed by the end of the 2023 fiscal year, according to U.S. Travel. The speed of visa wait times reductions will vary by country due local travel demand and hiring pace, according to Peter van Berkel, chairman of the International Inbound Travel Association and president of Travalco, a tour operator.
Under 120 days is still high and underscores the Skift 2023 megatrend that the U.S. travel industry will have to continue to contend with the loss of many international travelers.
Working with the State Department to resolve the visitor visa delay issue will be the top priority for the person that fills the newly-created assistant secretary of travel and tourism position.