Six months after the world started to open up, the waiting period for South Africans wanting visa appointments for travel to the US is still around six months and some consular offices have no appointments available at all.
Mid-pandemic, South African agents were already complaining about wait times for US tourist visa appointments when only special visa-holders were being allowed into the US, before the destination reopened to leisure travellers from South Africa (see here: https://www.travelnews.co.za/article/us-visas-six-month-backlog). However, Travel News has heard that the situation has since deteriorated.
The US Embassy said the problem was caused by “staffing challenges” due to COVID.
TAG Financial Director, Gavin Stevens, said: “The situation doesn’t seem to be improving at all. No appointments are currently available in Cape Town and the earliest in Johannesburg is for October 2022. If anything, it seems to be deteriorating. This could also be due to increased numbers trying to get into the US for work and holiday.”
Ceo of Asata, Otto de Vries, said: “The situation hasn’t changed, and there is a long backlog. From Asata’s side, I have got two contacts in Washington whom I am writing to, to see what they’re doing about it and to ask what we can do to help. We believe it is going to require everyone in the value chain to get it fixed.”
And long visa wait times aren’t limited to the US. De Vries said Asata had also engaged EU and, specifically, Dutch authorities over delays in applications for visas for South Africans. So far, the Dutch had responded to acknowledge the issue and were exploring possible solutions, said De Vries.
Virgin Atlantic Country Manager, Liezl Gericke, said delays in visa processing remained a significant challenge for travellers. “We work closely with the UK Government, which has cleared backlogs and has committed to issuing visas per service-level agreement. However, we see a negative impact on outbound travel to the US, primarily because of visa delays, as only those with valid visas can travel. We continue to work with industry associations, and lobby for the governments to expedite visa-issuing to ensure seamless travel experiences for our passengers.”
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The US Embassy in Pretoria told Travel News it was aware of what it termed “the extended visa interview wait times”. It said it was committed to “lowering those wait times as quickly and safely as possible, recognising that visas for work and tourism play a critical role in the US economy”.
An embassy spokesperson said COVID-19 had resulted in profound reductions in the (State) Department’s visa processing capacity and that many embassies and consulates had only been able to offer emergency services during the pandemic.
“We are aware that, as routine visa processing is re-introduced at some embassies and consulates that have not been able to schedule appointments, applicants may face extended visa interview wait times,” the spokesperson said. “Our embassies and consulates are still facing COVID-19-related restrictions, and many continue to face staffing challenges that began during the pandemic.”
However, the embassy explained that wait times for certain visa interviews had already been reduced. For example, consular offices had been temporarily authorised to waive in-person interviews for certain work, student and exchange visitor applications. “We will continue investigating ways to creatively reduce wait times for visa interviews in collaboration with our inter-agency partners while ensuring a secure and efficient visa process.”
The embassy concluded: “Non-immigrant visas (NIV) appointment availability will continue to be subject to local conditions and resources,” adding that travel agents could access an NIV wait time tool at travel.state.gov.