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What Visa Delays Mean for Travelers to the United States

What Visa Delays Mean for Travelers to the United States

Every year, on average, there are approximately 79.6 million non-US citizens who visit the United States, making it one of the top visited countries in the world. 

The top inbound flights to America in 2021:

  • Mexico – 10.3 million
  • Canada – 2.5 million
  • Colombia – 1 million 
  • United Kingdom – 460,749 thousand
  • India – 433,305 thousand 

Tourism, education and jobs are among the top reasons why the U.S. ranks high for visits each year.  

During the pandemic international travel significantly decreased to approximately 1.7 million people, but it is slowly moving up to pre-pandemic numbers. The process of entry, however, to the U.S. has significantly gotten much slower. 

While U.S. borders have opened for most countries, only a limited number of selected travelers are able to come to the U.S. For visitors from countries where visas are not required and for those who hold a current U.S. Visa there is nothing you need to do. Those needing a new visa should anticipate long wait times due to current conditions.

Once the application has been submitted, it can take almost two years of waiting to be issued a visa for entry to the United States. The only exception seems to be for the Student Visa, which takes approximately 30 calendar days for most countries. 

Impact of Travel and Tourism on the Economy

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), travel to North America is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 3.9% over the next decade.

It has also been projected that travel to North America is expected to create approximately 9.5 million new jobs between 2022 and 2032, with an average annual growth rate of 3.7%.

Globally, it is also projected that as recovery continues, the GDP will grow 38.2% to reach $2.1 trillion, with jobs rising 19%.

With this type of growth in an economy where tourism is needed for the United States to thrive, it is extremely important for tourists and visitors to gain access to a visa in a timely manner. 

Obtaining a Visa to the United States

Depending on which country you are traveling from, you could wait  upwards of two years or more to obtain a visa for entry to the U.S. 

The U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs informs visitors that “a citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States generally must first obtain a U.S. [V]isa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport, a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship” 

The type of Visa depends on the nature of travel you intend to do while in America. There are links on the site that give you the necessary information for each type of visa. 

According to an article posted by Bloomberg, “Processing times for visas and work permits soared after embassies and immigration offices closed for months due to the pandemic, creating a backlog of cases that the immigration agency is still struggling to work through and highlighting what critics say is the cumulative effect of years of dysfunction.”

Also, there are many factors, including current immigration laws and quotas on how many visas can be given each year that can determine how long the wait can be. However, applicants from countries such as China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines have the longest waiting times.

The waiting begins once the application has been completed and it is excruciatingly long. Here are a few examples of wait time for visitors from India:

Exchange Students’ Effect on the United States Economy & Business

Exchange students seem to be an exception to the rule in how quickly they can obtain a visa for entry to the United States. However, when parents are unable to visit the colleges and universities for parent’s day, or to visit with student advisors or instructors, it can cause a decline in  students coming to America. 

With many instructors or fellows  from around the world seeking educational opportunities in the U.S. This also has an adverse effect on college admissions, which can lead to a loss in revenue to retain instructors or programs for higher education. 

This, too, has an impact on the economy. Considering that international students contributed between $28 – $39 billion to the U.S. economy in 2020/21, and that they also supported over 300,000 jobs.

From Open Doors, a data and research site sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, “Students from around the world who study in the United States also contribute to America’s scientific and technical research and bring international perspectives into U.S. classrooms, helping prepare American undergraduates for global careers, and often lead[s] to longer-term business relationships and economic benefits.”

To quote US News & World Report:

  • The total number of international students at U.S. universities dropped by 15% from 1,075,496 in 2019-2020 to 914,095 in 2020-2021.
  • The number of new international students enrolling in U.S. universities dropped by 45.6% in that time frame.
  • China and India, who remain the largest sources of origin for international students coming to the U.S., sent 14.8% and 13.2% fewer students, respectively, in that time period.

  (Source: US News & World Report, Nov. 15, 2021, Josh Moody)

With the pandemic worries shifting, there has been a 51% increase in international student applications. 

What Can Travelers to the U.S. Expect? 

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has acknowledged that the wait time is not what it should be and is, in fact, too long. He has indicated that USCIS is implementing new policies and procedures to improve the processing time and reduce the cases currently pending. 

U.S. consulates are taking selective steps to rectify the situation. In the meantime:

  • Keep checking online*. 
  • Keep all the paperwork ready. 
  • Keep all necessary information ready. 
  • When applying online, a few seconds’ delay may push you several hundred places back in the line, as appointments fill up quickly. 

*The consular officer at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply will determine your visa eligibility and the visa category suitable for your purpose of travel, based on U.S. immigration law.

Uncertain or moving deadlines and dates may mean that you might need to change your travel plans, and having travel insurance can help with the unpredictable.
At VisitorsCoverage, we stay up-to-date with current conditions happening in the travel and tourism industry so we can be better prepared to help with all your travel insurance needs.