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Long Wait Times For Tourist Visas Could Be Hurting U.S. Economy

Travelers who need a visa to enter the U.S. are now waiting hundreds of days, though the White House says it's processing faster recently.
Posted at 9:34 PM, Dec 21, 2022

Go to Mars and back, earn a degree, walk around the world — these are things a person can do in 400 days. It's also the time it takes for many international travelers to obtain visas to come visit America.

That's according to a new website called "They Wait, We Lose," which lets global travelers share the stories of their visa waits.

Designed by the U.S. Travel Association, which represents the travel industry, the site aims to pressure the Biden administration to reduce the growing visa backlog. 

"We're hopeful that when people see these stories of travelers who want to come visit their grandparents, or travelers who want to come and buy American products, that we begin to realize that we are creating our own problems," said Geoff Freeman, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO.

The association says the average wait time for tourists from popular inbound countries is soaring. It's as much as 873 days in India, 680 days in Mexico and 360 days in Brazil.

For years, Brazilian citizen Juliana Juk Susnik has been traveling to the U.S. with her family.

"We Brazilians love to go to U.S. and can have our cell phones on the street and not be worried about it," Susnik said. "It's also a great destination for shopping because we know the quality and even the prices."

Recently, her children's tourist visas expired. Now to renew them, they have to wait 12 months for an interview at the local U.S. embassy.

"That timeframe, it doesn't help for any plan," Susnik said. "So for Christmas, we are going to Europe because we can't go to the U.S."

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When people like Susnik cancel vacations to the U.S., it hurts the American economy.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates the country will lose nearly $12 billion in 2023 as a result of visa delays, though the State Department disputes this assertion. 

In a statement to Newsy, an administration official said, "While visa appointment wait times are a real challenge that we will continue to address, the idea that they are solely responsible for a lack of travel to the United States just isn't supported by the numbers." 

"These visitors are crucial to supporting the U.S. economy, and to give someone an 800-day wait time is basically a message of, 'Go away. We don't want your business,'" Freeman said.

Travelers from most countries need a visa to enter the U.S. for work or leisure. Only 41 nations — including Canada, most Europe countries, Japan and Australia — are exempt and allowed to visit the U.S. visa-free for up to 90 days.

Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration's efforts to recover from pandemic-related delays.

"We are successfully lowering visa interview wait times — that's around the world — and we've doubled our hiring of U.S. foreign service personnel to do this important work," Jean-Pierre said. "Visa processing is recovering faster than projected, and this year, we expect to reach pre-pandemic processing levels."

Still, the travel industry says the progress is too slow. They are calling on the Biden administration to lower interview wait times to 21 days.

But these visa delays aren't just for tourist visas. Immigrants hoping for green cards face waits, on top of the already more complicated process. 

Some have claimed the U.S. is prioritizing tourist visas over immigrants, but the Biden administration says they are working just as hard to process both tourism and immigration visas.