Today the Department of State shared a plan to greatly speed up visitor visa processing, in response to a White House Executive Order calling for measures to boost U.S. tourism, economy and job creation.
With the establishment of a new Visa Pilot Program, the department plans to reduce the amount of visa interviews for certain foreign visitors, including people renewing their visas, and children or elderly first-time applicants. This will not only save foreign travellers a considerable amount of time and money, but also free up resources at Embassies and Consulates to focus on higher-risk cases. In the end, a much more streamlined visa application process for everyone.
This is, in my opinion, long overdue! Take my parents as an example, they are over 70 years old and have been to the U.S. six times in the past ten years. We have taken many out-of-state vacations together, as well as frequent weekend trips. Despite their contribution to the travel industry and their track record of never over-staying their B2 visas, they had to re-apply every couple of years. Even with automatic visa re-validation (they were eligible once or twice before), it was still a hassle. And they are even considered lucky because there is an U.S. embassy in the city they live in. Others may have to travel by train, stay at a hotel, and wait for several days just to get a B visa which they had before.
I’m glad the administration recognizes the unbelievable waste of resources on processing these low-risk applications, and are taking initiatives to improve it. The pilot program (details still to be released) is certainly a step in the right direction:
The pilot program will streamline visa processing for certain low-risk applicants, such as individuals renewing expired visas, or some categories of younger or older first-time applicants. We expect that this will benefit tens of thousands of applicants in Brazil and China; saving them time and money, and encouraging them to choose to visit the United States again. However, given that national security remains this Administration’s highest priority, individuals identified as higher-risk will remain subject to interviews – in addition to the full screening and review all visa applicants receive.
The department also provided some figures to demonstrate the economic impact of the new policy:
For example, this will make it much easier for many Chinese tourists to renew their visas – a group that spends more than $6,000 per person, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce. Over the course of the year, this policy could open as many as 100,000 interview appointments for Chinese travelers applying for visas for the first time. That increase in tourism could support as many as 1,500 travel and tourism-related jobs.