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U.S. Allocates $50 Million to Tackle Visa and Passport Delays

U.S. Allocates $50 Million to Tackle Visa and Passport Delays –

Congressional Funding to Reduce Backlogs

The U.S. government has earmarked $50 million to help the State Department combat lengthy visa wait times and passport processing delays. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Saturday, garnering praise from the travel industry this week.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Travel Association applauded the passage of the bill, part of a broader package of appropriations for select federal agencies through September. The lobbying group highlighted the average wait time for first-time visitor visas for the U.S.’s top inbound markets, which currently stands at around 400 days.

Discretionary Spending to Address Bottlenecks

The law grants the State Department discretion in allocating the funds, without specifying visa categories or target countries. “The State Department must now deploy these resources as quickly as possible to lower wait times and facilitate growth in inbound visitation,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for U.S. Travel.

According to Julie Stufft, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for visa services, visitor visa wait times in Colombia, Mexico, and India are expected to span hundreds of days this year due to high demand for travel to the U.S.

Travel Industry Advocacy for Streamlining Visa Process

Reducing visa wait times has been a pressing issue for the travel industry, especially as the U.S. prepares to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Last week, over 300 travel professionals lobbied their federal lawmakers to take action on the matter.

At the Skift India Summit, U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti stated that President Biden had specifically asked him to work on reducing the visa backlog.

Economic Impact of Visa Delays

For the past few years, visa wait times have stretched to hundreds of days in embassies in Brazil, Mexico, India, and Colombia – top inbound markets for the U.S. Long visa wait times cost the U.S. $12 billion in travel spending in 2023, according to U.S. Travel.

“If you are a leisure traveler or a business traveler, you’re likely to say, ‘I’ll go somewhere else,'” said U.S. Travel CEO Geoff Freeman at the Skift Global Forum in September, highlighting the risk of losing travelers to other destinations.

State Department’s Efforts to Address Backlogs

To tackle the backlog, the State Department has implemented measures such as waiving interviews for low-risk visa applicants, relocating staff to countries with large backlogs, and hiring more processing staff. Some embassies in Brazil and India have seen significant reductions in wait times.

The federal agency issued a record 10.4 million visas in 2023. However, as long as visa wait times remain extended, the U.S. risks losing potential travelers to other destinations.

“The allocated funds are a crucial step in addressing the visa and passport processing bottlenecks, but sustained efforts are necessary to ensure the U.S. remains a competitive and accessible destination for travelers,” said Dr. Emily Williams, a travel industry expert from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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