A bipartisan group of 44 mayors and other local officials sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken a letter urging immediate action to reduce visa-interview wait times, which currently are at more than 400 days, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Among the signees are mayors of New York, Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, and Charlotte, N.C.
The letter states, "As a lingering result of the pandemic’s peak, a severe backlog in processing of the U.S. visitor visas is now delaying — in some instances well over a year — the visitation of foreign travelers from key markets who provide much-needed economic and diplomatic benefits to the nation."
The mayors made four recommendations to Blinken:
- Lower wait times to 21 days in the top countries for inbound travel by April 2023;
- Reinstate the executive order to provide interview appointments for 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants within 21 days by the end of September;
- Increase consular staffing and resources in countries with a high volume of applicants and for large events that draw international visitors; and
- Extend interview waivers for nonimmigrant visa renewals.
The State Department has already taken some steps, including opening consulates on some Saturdays and waiving interviews for low-risk renewals.
The mayors of Houston, Miami, and Ontario, Calif., as well as a supervisor of Madera County, Calif., submitted letters individually to the secretary of state, and the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion recommending federal policy changes to limit wait times.
Visa-processing delays are detrimental to the recovery of the inbound travel sector and the U.S. economy, according to U.S. Travel. In 2019, 43 percent of international visitors — and $120 billion in spending — came from countries where a visa is required to enter the United States. An economic analysis from U.S. Travel estimates a loss of $7 billion and 2.6 million visitors if they are not able to obtain a visa in a timely manner.