Last year I had to develop new and deeper wells of patience.
My twin sons were applying to college. We had visited some schools and learned about others remotely.
The autumn involved coaching my sons to put their applications together in a timely manner.
But it was the months of waiting over the winter for the colleges to respond that was the hardest part.
The process resembled visa and green card application processes with all the documentation, fees, and visits required.
But there was one key difference.
The colleges had a set timetable. We could be confident they would respect their promised response dates.
The same cannot be said for any of the government agencies and departments handling visa applications and extensions now.
Application Processing Problems Began Before Covid, Then Worsened
Many of us in the immigration law community felt the chill that set in when the Trump administration took office. Among their key initiatives was to curtail immigration any way possible, throwing obstacles into visa processes at home and enacting strangleholds over embassies and consulates abroad.
Consular officers and other civil servants working abroad got frustrated and quit. The reduced staff furthered the administration’s aims and it did not replenish those posts.
That slowed the availability of consulate appointments for visas and the processing of applications tremendously.
Then covid hit. Consulates, embassies, and US government offices shut down. All visa processing came to a halt. Immigration cases piled up.
Wait times for visa appointments and processing ballooned from days or weeks to months and years.
Though the Biden administration has expressed intent to remedy the situation, they have not yet been able to reduce the mind-boggling wait times in the US and many locations overseas.
State department data show student visa interviews were backlogged 49 days as of July 2022, 5 times longer than before the pandemic. Temporary work visas face a 75-day wait, up from a pre-covid 12. Business travelers and tourists wait 247 days, up from 17 in March 2020.
Recent State Department data from consulates reveal that most now have a wait of more than six months for visa interviews for business travelers and tourists.
Some delays are much longer. As of September 14, a tourist in Paris will wait 520 days for a visa; one in Bogota, Colombia, 857 days.
This summer the Department of Labor (DOL) was taking 8-10 months to process prevailing wage determinations, which are needed for work visas and employment-based green card classifications.
Last spring US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) extended premium processing to more visa categories and lengthened automatic work visa extensions. Premium processing seems to be working for those willing to pay for it, but overall processing times remain long.
Super Long Wait Times Require Creative Solutions
The State Department, DOL, and USCIS have been hiring new employees to fill consular and other staffing gaps, but it is taking much time to get them onboarded and trained.
Helping our clients meet their visa and green card needs has required pressure in some cases and creative solutions in others.
For two religious worker clients, the green card process was taking so long that we had to engage a litigator to get USCIS working on their cases.
A Bulgarian client in Canada faced a wait time of 900 days for a US tourist visa and went home to Bulgaria to get it as the wait times were shorter there.
A client from an African nation had a visa set to expire soon, and much earlier than her husband who was in the US on a work visa. Processing times in her home country were 90 days or more and in third party countries, 60 days or more.
We counseled the client to take a family vacation to Mexico. They went for five days and upon return, her visa was extended to match his.
We’ve been advising clients to keep checking back on consular websites to look for earlier appointments.
Navigating the visa process requires us to have patience, stay current on changes, and work the system.
If you need help with a visa, please contact us at 630-262-1435 or reply to this email. Please know we will do everything we can to help, and we appreciate your patience with a system that is testing everyone’s patience.