Meeting Mentor Magazine

September 2021

Progress Report

With Focus on China and Brazil Hubs,
Visa Approvals up, Wait Times Down

It’s been 18 months since the Obama administration made fast, efficient and secure visa processing central to a new travel and tourism strategy announced in January 2012, and it’s time for a progress report, first from the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, and then from SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Visa applications: In FY 2012 (October 1, 2011, to September 30, 2012), The State Department processed 10.3 million non-immigrant visa applications. It issued 8.9 million visas, a 19 percent increase over the previous year. (Numbers for the first six months of FY 2013 were not available at press time.)

Visa waiting times: More than 90 percent of applicants worldwide are now interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications. This exceeds the goal of 80 percent set out by President Obama 18 months ago. As of February 2013, interview wait times in China averaged five days, while in Brazil wait times have been brought down 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in Sao Paulo to just two days.

Visa processing capacity (additional staff and expanded facilities): The U.S. Missions in Brazil and China met the president’s goal to increase visa processing capacity by 40 percent in 2012 (Brazil in June 2012; China in November 2012). By the end of last year, more than 40 new visa adjudicator positions in China and 50 in Brazil had been created, including 43 under a program that targets recruits who speak Mandarin and Portuguese.

The Department of State has spent “millions of dollars” to upgrade and expand existing consular facilities. In FY 2013 in China, a new consulate building will open in Guangzhou, consular sections in Shenyang will move to a larger facility, visa processing will begin in Wuhan. New consulates in Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre will open in Brazil in FY 2015

Visa waiver program: Begun in early 2012, this program allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants renewing their visas. It now operates at 53 visa processing posts in 29 countries. Consular officers already have waived interviews for more than 222,000 of these low-risk visa applicants.

One association’s view: For SPIE, lead time is everything. Between 20 and 30 percent of attendance at SPIE events is international, and its large events draw from 30 to 40 countries. In general, the streamlined process and paperwork are more efficient and faster, cutting weeks off the process. SPIE also receives fewer “problem” messages from those who are applying. Still the required type and amount of paperwork, as well as antiquated systems in country, hinder many visa applications. For example:

• Many potential attendees abroad still don’t understand the time it takes to get a visa, so they start the process too late to get it done in time.

• During SPIE’s busiest meeting schedule and due to heavy volume, the organization takes about two weeks to produce the necessary letters and documentation for attendees.

• In-country postal systems remain slow and unreliable in places like China and Russia, so original paperwork gets hung up in transit — beyond SPIE’s control.

• Many western European countries accept PDFs of documents, which speeds things. But most countries in eastern Europe and Asia still require original documents and moving those back and forth eats up valuable time. — Maxine Golding

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