After months of long appointment wait times at U.S. consulates, current U.S. visa processing times are almost back to pre-pandemic levels - at least at most consular posts around the world. Read here to see what progress has been made in U.S. offices this year.
Within the 3-year pandemic phase, the U.S. Department of State was finally able to improve the processing times of visa applications in the consular posts after long closures of the U.S. consulates worldwide, through modernization and staff increases.
In Germany, changes in the appointment situation at U.S. consulates have already been noticeable in recent months:
While waiting times for a consular appointment for B visas were still around 5-7 months in the summer of 2022, for example, they have currently been reduced to 5-7 weeks. This is a significant improvement, but we are still not quite at the pre-pandemic level, where average waiting times were 1-3 weeks. I.e., short-term (tourist or business) travel is still not feasible; unless individuals qualify to participate in the Visa Waiver Program(ESTA).
Especially for work visas (such as E or L), appointment wait times have largely leveled off at 4-6 weeks.
Staffing in U.S. agencies has largely doubled within the last year. As a result, the U.S. Department of State plans to return to pre-pandemic levels of visa application processing as early as the end of the year, but no later than spring 2023. We are cautiously optimistic that this promise can be kept, at least in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Whether the sometimes still long appointment waiting times in other countries, such as the Netherlands, France, India or Mexico, can be stabilized within such a short time remains to be seen. Here, too, however, the US authorities are working flat out to improve the situation.
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic had paralyzed all authorities and also severely limited U.S. visa processing. Travel restrictions to the United States meant that only business travelers with an NIE permit were allowed to travel to the U.S. for business. All public institutions, such as U.S. consulates, were closed for months or had limited accessibility, making it impossible for visa applicants to show up for appointments.
This created an enormous backlog of potential visa application processes, which unloaded with the abolition of the travel ban in November 2022 with a real rush to the U.S. consulates.
This situation was further exacerbated because, as a result of the 2020/2021 Travel Ban, consulates did not receive the usual amount for business and personal visa fees, forcing them to lay off some of their staff. This shortage of staff, in turn, resulted in a slow processing of the high number of visa applications that were pending and then newly received.
According to the U.S. Department of State, 96 percent of U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are currently able to resume in-person interview appointments. Based on the pre-pandemic average of visa applications, 94 percent of nonimmigrant visas and 130 percent of immigrant visas are currently being processed.
As of September 2022, due in large part to the aforementioned staffing increase, approximately 8 million nonimmigrant visas have been processed worldwide over the past 365 days, exceeding projected expectations.
In response to the pandemic and to improve the scheduling situation, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to expand the Interview Waiver Program. This means that certain applicants can obtain a visa without a personal interview at the U.S. consulate under certain conditions. In these cases, postal submission is then possible.
As a result, the waiting time for an interview appointment at the U.S. consulate could be gradually and ultimately significantly reduced - at least in certain countries. About 30 percent of visa applicants are affected by the interview exemption. This means that those who still need an appointment benefit from greater appointment capacity.
The processing times in the postal submission procedure vary considerably, depending on the responsible U.S. authority in the individual countries worldwide (from an average of 2 to several weeks). And, not all US agencies offer the extended interview waiver application pathways.
Almost all U.S. consular posts around the world have seen a reduction in the backlog of applications for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
As recently as October 2019, about 710,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued worldwide before, due to the pandemic and the month-long travel ban, visa issuance plummeted dramatically. The graph shows the positive turnaround; by October 2022, we are almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
Nearly 180,000 visa applications in categories F, M, and J, for students and exchange students*, were approved by staff at U.S. consulates worldwide in July 2022 alone, for example, which is a new record since 2016.
German U.S. consulate statistics also indicate a positive turnaround. Currently, we are even above pre-pandemic levels in non-immigrant visa issuance. This also illustrates the great efforts of the U.S. authorities to continue to stabilize the application and appointment situation.
The U.S. government continues to strive to provide interviews to applicants for U.S. visas within shorter timeframes. Although wait times have improved significantly at most U.S. consulates, especially in Germany, there are still significant problems in some countries.
For example, the wait for a visitor visa appointment in India continues to be a dramatic 2 years; in Spain, Brazil, and Mexico, applicants wait about a year for an available appointment.
Depending on the country and the visa category being applied for, wait times for an appointment vary significantly.
The U.S. Department of State therefore expressly advises applicants from countries with long waiting times to consider applying for a visa in a neighboring country with shorter waiting times.
In general, however, we are positive about the visa year 2023 and expect further stabilization in the coming months.
The latest information on waiting times at consular missions worldwide can be found at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas.html.
Updated on 13.12.2022