The Department of State is committed to facilitating legitimate travel to the United States while safeguarding national security.
Many applicants for U.S. visas are required by U.S. law to appear in person. However, local pandemic-era restrictions on public places like our overseas consular sections curbed our ability to see visa applicants. This reduced the number of visa applications the Department could process. Now that most countries have lifted restrictions, ninety-six percent of our embassies and consulates can provide routine visa services. The combination of pent-up demand from the past two years combined with regular seasonal demand has resulted in extended wait times for U.S. visa interview appointments in some locations – most notably for first-time visitor visa applicants and immigrant visa applicants in some countries.
The Department of State is successfully lowering visa interview wait times worldwide. We have doubled our hiring of U.S. Foreign Service personnel to do this important work, visa processing is rebounding faster than projected, and in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 we expect to reach pre‑pandemic visa processing levels.
As of November 2022, the median worldwide wait time for a tourist visa (B1/B2) interview appointment is about two months, and applicants with urgent travel needs who meet certain criteria can apply for an emergency appointment, usually available within days. We are committed to continuing our progress and further reducing visa interview appointment wait times as quickly as possible.
In the past year, we have made great strides in returning to pre-pandemic visa processing levels and in reducing appointment wait times by doing the following:
- We are waiving in-person interviews where possible while safeguarding national security.
- We have significantly reduced wait times at many embassies and consulates by working with the Department of Homeland Security to expand our authority to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa categories and for many renewals while still ensuring national security.
- Almost half of the nearly seven million nonimmigrant visas we issued globally in FY 2022 were adjudicated without an in-person interview.
- We have exceeded pre-pandemic levels of processing in key visa categories that support the U.S. economy.
- We issued forty percent (40%) more H-2 visas for seasonal agricultural and nonagricultural workers in FY 2022 than in FY 2019. This effort increases legal immigration pathways, reduces irregular migration to our southern border, improves supply chain issues that contribute to inflation, and safeguards our nation’s food supply.
- We issued more student visas in FY 2022 than in any year since FY 2016. During the 2021 – 2022 academic year, international students contributed more than $32 billion to the U.S. economy.
- In FY 2022, we issued one hundred and forty-five percent (145%) more employment-based immigrant visas applied for by most healthcare workers when compared to FY 2019.
- We nearly matched pre-pandemic processing rates for the airline and shipping crew members who are essential for maintaining global supply chains.
- We are processing more visas with fewer consular officers.
- As of the end of FY 2022, we were already processing ninety-four percent (94%) of the nonimmigrant visas we processed in FY 2019, and one hundred and thirty percent (130%) of immigrant visas compared to FY 2019 monthly processing averages.
- We continue to add more consular staff abroad, but in the meantime, we have implemented efficiencies that allow us to do more work with fewer resources, all while safeguarding national security.
- We are working as a global team.
- We have used innovative technological solutions to electronically redistribute nonimmigrant visa workloads from overseas posts with high visa appointment wait times to other posts with additional capacity.
- Each day, for example, U.S. consular officers in different parts of the world remotely adjudicate thousands of nonimmigrant visa applications for applicants from countries with long interview wait times who do not require an interview. This has allowed our consular officers in those countries to focus on first-time and other visa applicants who do require an interview.
- We are providing greater transparency to visa applicants.
- To promote greater transparency and improve customer service, we added new tools on travel.state.gov, so the public can view and compare wait times across embassies and consulates for both nonimmigrant visa interviews and interview waiver applications.
These achievements are just the beginning of a new approach to our work. The dedicated staff of the Department of State will continue these and additional efforts to address the unprecedented demand, so the American people and U.S. economy benefit from keeping our doors open to lawful visitors.