Despite assurances from State Department officials that the issue of extreme visa wait times for international visitors was being resolved, as of Aug. 11 delays in several key markets -- including Mexico and India -- had actually risen.
Legislation has been introduced in the Senate to address the issue, which U.S. Travel Association CEO Geoff Freeman said reveals "a frustrating lack of progress by the federal government."
A State Department spokesperson, however, said the increase in wait time reflects not a lack of progress but a surge in demand for the U.S.
"Wait times do not mean that people are not being issued visas," the spokesperson said. "They simply reflect the extremely high level of demand for a U.S. visa. In fact, some of our busiest visa-issuing posts, including in Mexico, issued more visitor visas in fiscal year 2022 than in prepandemic fiscal year 2019."
In the first nine months of fiscal year 2023 through June, the U.S. issued 19.4% more nonimmigrant visas than it did during the same period of 2019.
"In March 2023, for the first time in nearly a decade, we issued more than 1 million nonimmigrant visas in a single month," the spokesperson said. "We expect to continue to exceed prepandemic visa-processing levels this year."
The State Department said that wait times for first-time visitor visa interviews in India decreased by 70% since the beginning of 2023 and that the U.S. has issued 46% more nonimmigrant visas there than during the same period in 2019. In Mexico, 21% more visas have been issued.
But the travel industry would like to see action taken to meet the demand.
"Without immediate State Department focus, the U.S. will fall further behind in the competition for global travelers, delaying our ability to fully rebuild America's inbound travel sector," Freeman said.
U.S. Travel said that wait times in Mexico were at 726 days, up from 701 in early July. India waits were 484 days, up from 410 last month. There was one promising reduction: Visa wait times in Brazil dropped to an average of 147 days, down from more than 500 in June.
Catherine Prather, president of the National Tour Association, said the organization is "discouraged" by the increase in wait times in India and Mexico and that they "remain incredibly high in other countries."
But she is encouraged by the bill introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) that would require the State Department to set wait time goals and take steps to lower those times; waive in-person interviews for previously vetted, low-risk visa applicants; and test videoconferencing as an alternative to some in-person interviews.