The wait time for a visa interview in Mumbai for Indian citizens who want to visit the U.S. is 999 days, according to the State Department.
“That’s unconscionable,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “International visitors are incredibly important to the United States.”
In an effort to pressure the Biden Administration to address the backlog, his organization developed a website, usvisadelays.com, to allow travelers to post the stories of their waits publicly. It’s coordinated with a social media campaign using the hashtag #TheyWaitWeLose.
Freeman said he hopes giving voice to affected travelers will help bring light to the issue and make visa wait times a little shorter. Ultimately, the organization’s goal is to get the average wait time as low as 21 days.
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That average is more than 400 days in many popular inbound markets, including India, Brazil and Mexico, according to Freeman.
When do visitors need visas to come to the US?
Around 40% of international visitors to the U.S. need a visa to enter, USA TODAY previously reported. The only travelers who are typically exempt come from countries with visa waivers in place, a list that has 40 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many European nations.
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All others, except those from Canada, need to apply for a tourist visa if they’re coming for leisure or a work or business visa in applicable circumstances.
The travel association estimates that visa wait times will cost the U.S. economy $7 billion in 2023.
What’s causing the delays?
According to Freeman, the State Department says staffing issues are the main culprit behind the visa application backlog. But, Freeman says, a similar logjam existed under the Obama administration, and solutions were put in place to address it.
Some of travel association’s proposals include surging staff from lower-traffic embassies and consulates to higher-demand locations, and extending visas or waiving interviews for returning visitors.
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What can travelers do if they can’t wait that long for a visa interview?
Unfortunately, there’s not much a visa applicant can do to speed up the process. Some well-off travelers may be able to visit an embassy or consulate in another city with a shorter wait time, but Freeman said that’s not an option for many applicants. The result, he added, is that the U.S. is missing out on tourist dollars and possible business transactions as well.
“The long-term loss is almost impossible to predict,” he said.