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U.S. Visa Wait Exceeds One Year For Top Sources Of Inbound Visitors; Improvement Needed, Travel Group Says

Forbes 1/25/2023 Russell Flannery, Forbes Staff
The wait time for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India was 577 days as of January 19, the U.S. Travel Association said. Photo dated 2013. (Photo by Priyanka Parashar /Mint via Getty Images) Hindustan Times via Getty Images © Provided by Forbes The wait time for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India was 577 days as of January 19, the U.S. Travel Association said. Photo dated 2013. (Photo by Priyanka Parashar /Mint via Getty Images) Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The average wait time for a U.S. visa interview needed by travelers from the top 10 inbound visa-requiring countries is more than 400 days, or over a year, a leading U.S. travel industry group said today.

“Wait times are still excessively high despite marked improvements in countries like India,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman. The wait time in India for a visa interview by the U.S. State Department has declined from a mid-December high of 999 days to 577 days as of January 19, it noted.

Other top-10 markets that have experienced “staggering” waits — including Brazil and Mexico — are also improving, the association said in a statement. Still, “much work remains to bring interview wait times down to an acceptable level” following pandemic-related disruptions, Freeman said. Today’s figures don’t include wait times in China, whose nationals need a visa for U.S. travel.

The stakes are big for the U.S. travel industry, a potential bright spot for an American economy facing a possible recession this year. The U.S. Travel Association tentatively expects spending from all international travelers to be around $93 billion for 2022 – not including education- and health-related outlays. That compares with $180 billion in pre-pandemic 2019. Travelers in the U.S. last year – domestic and foreign – spent about $1.1 trillion, about 10% less than in 2019, the association said.

New York City remains a popular international tourist destination despite an increase in major crime last year. Getty Images © Provided by Forbes New York City remains a popular international tourist destination despite an increase in major crime last year. Getty Images

The U.S. has tried to reduce the long wait for a visa interview by waiving requirements for low-risk renewals of visitor, worker and student visas, the association said. Covid-related staffing shortages of State Department visa staff will likely be filled by this summer, helping to lower interview wait times to a goal of less than 120 days by the end of September, it noted.

Still, the association said, a four month, 120-day wait would “far exceed what the economy needs for robust inbound travel recovery.” By comparison, an executive order required 80% of nonimmigrant visa applications globally to be interviewed within 21 days in 2012-2017, it noted.

Total overseas visits to the U.S. in 2022 were likely in excess of 50 million travelers, the association said, citing U.S. Department of Commerce figures. That compares with 22 million in 2021 and 79 million in 2019. By country, the top 10 sources of U.S. visitors in 2022 were Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, India, Brazil, Columbia, South Korea and Spain.

One notable member of the top-10 in 2019 that may be poised to recover in 2023: mainland China. China arrivals in 2022 dropped to about 368,000 from 2.8 million in 2019, the association said. The country has eased “zero-Covid” rules, already leading to increased travel bookings and share prices this year for U.S.-listed businesses such as Trip.com – the nation’s largest online travel site – and H World, a big hotel chain.

The U.S. Travel Association represents more than 1,100 travel organizations and businesses ranging from airlines such as United Airlines to Universal Parks & Resorts.

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