This summer, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced the bipartisan Visa Processing Improvement Act. The bill aims to create long-lasting solutions to the egregious wait times that visitors and immigrants to the United States often face at American consulates abroad.
The bill includes provisions to increase consular capacity by expanding the availability and use of English-language interviews and recruiting new consular fellows from foreign service applicant pools. It will also establish wait time standards and accountability metrics, extend interview waiver eligibility, create a new expedited processing option, and direct the Department of State to revalidate B-1 and B-2 visas domestically for eligible applicants.
Staffing challenges and staggering backlogs overwhelmed consulates following pandemic-era closures. However, the solutions outlined in the Visa Processing Improvement Act would enable consulates to ramp up their capacity through enhanced recruitment efforts and burden-sharing.
Less than a year ago, consular wait times had skyrocketed to 999 days in some cases. The U.S. Travel Association estimated that these wait times would cost the U.S. economy $11.6 billion in lost tourist and business visitor revenue.
Temporary administrative expansions to interview waiver eligibility likely account for the substantial improvements seen over the past several months, with wait times dropping and visa issuances hitting a ten-year high in March 2023. However, many measures responsible for that success will expire at the end of this year. The Niskanen Center has previously highlighted the benefit of extending these waivers, and the Visa Processing Improvement Act would make them permanent through statute.
Niskanen has previously recommended several other durable solutions for improving consular efficiency, including more frequent use of English-language interviews, targeted recruitment of consular fellows through the foreign service examination process, increased accountability, and domestic visa revalidation. The Visa Processing Improvement Act includes several of these recommendations and would substantially improve the consular experience for visa applicants. If enacted, the bill would likely prompt new economic activity as decreased wait times revitalize tourism and business expenditure.
If the temporary measures come to an end without other permanent improvements to the visa process, however, the U.S. will likely suffer as wait times and backlogs block and discourage travel. The Visa Processing Improvement Act would prevent that economic loss by ensuring that consulates have the resources needed to process and vet applicants promptly and efficiently.