Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) have introduced a bill to address the delays in visa processing for international visitors, an issue that the industry says is hindering the return of inbound travel.
"International travelers applying for visas are facing unacceptably long wait times, often stretching to a year or longer," said Klobuchar in a statement. "Our bill will help address backlogs and get people flying faster by increasing staff and improving service at U.S. consulates and embassies, which will bring more international travelers to attractions, restaurants and hotels across Minnesota and the entire country."
The Visa Processing Improvement Act would require the State Department to set interview wait time goals and take steps to lower wait times in locations don't achieve those goals; give the State Department authority to waive in-person interviews for previously vetted, low-risk nonimmigrant visa applicants; create a program to test videoconferencing as an alternative to in-person interviews for low-risk, pre-vetted visa applicants from Global Entry countries; offer a fee for expedited processing; and provide the opportunity to extend visitor visas while in the U.S.
Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association called the bill "critical to increasing staffing and capacity at consular offices around the world" and for setting visa-processing goals and benchmarks, "something the U.S. travel industry has long called for."
"There has been a disastrous lack of progress on essential travel services across the federal government," Emerson Barnes said. "Interview wait times have remained staggeringly high, deterring travelers and hindering U.S. global competitiveness. A goal-driven approach and increased accountability from the Biden administration is needed to resolve this persistent issue."
Catherine Prather, president of the National Tour Association, said that the NTA has been discouraged to learn that visa wait times recently increased in India and Mexico, two key inbound markets, and remain "incredibly high" in other countries.
"We're encouraged, though, by the bill introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Jerry Moran containing provisions that can rapidly reduce the delay," she said, adding that if passed, it can help "ease global frustrations" and increase travel to the U.S.