The average wait time for a US visa interview required by travelers from the top 10 visa-requiring inbound countries is more than 400 days or more than a year, a leading US travel group said today.
“Wait times are still too high despite notable improvements in countries like India,” said American Travel Association President and CEO Jeff Freeman. India’s wait time for a US State Department visa interview has declined from its highest level since mid-December of 999 days to 577 days as of January 19, the paper noted.
Other top 10 markets that had “staggering” waits – including Brazil and Mexico – are also improving, the association said in a statement. Still, “a lot of work remains to reduce interview wait times to an acceptable level” after pandemic-related disruptions, Freeman said. Today’s figures do not include wait times in China, whose citizens need a visa to travel to the US.
The stakes are high for the U.S. travel industry, a potential bright spot for the U.S. economy facing a possible recession this year. The US Travel Association tentatively expects spending by all international travelers to be about $93 billion in 2022 – not including education and health-related spending. That compares to $180 billion in 2019 before the pandemic. U.S. travelers last year — domestic and foreign — spent about $1.1 trillion, about 10 percent less than in 2019, the association said.
The US has sought to reduce long waits for a visa interview by removing low-risk renewal requirements for visitor, work and student visas, the association said. The State Department’s Covid-related shortage of visa staff is likely to be filled by this summer, helping reduce interview wait times to a target of less than 120 days by the end of September, it noted.
Still, the association said, a wait of four months and 120 days would “far exceed what the economy needs for a robust recovery in inbound travel.” By comparison, an executive order required 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applications worldwide to be interviewed within 21 days in 2012-2017, it noted.
The total number of overseas visits to the US in 2022 is likely to exceed 50 million travelers, the association said, citing data from the US Department of Commerce. This compares to 22 million in 2021 and 79 million in 2019. By country, the top 10 sources of US visitors in 2022 are Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, India, Brazil, Colombia, South Korea and Spain.
One notable member of the 2019 top 10 that may be poised to rebound in 2023: mainland China. Arrivals to China in 2022 are down to about 368,000 from 2.8 million in 2019, the association said. The country has eased “zero Covid” rules, which have already led to increases in travel bookings and share prices this year for US-listed businesses such as Trip.com – the country’s largest online travel site – and H World, a major hotel chain.
The US Travel Association represents more than 1,100 travel organizations and businesses, ranging from airlines like United Airlines to Universal Parks & Resorts.
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