US visa wait lasts more than a year for top sources of inbound visitors; Needs improvement, says Travel Group

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The average wait time for a U.S. visa interview required for travelers from the top 10 inbound visa-requiring countries is more than 400 days, or more than a year, a leading U.S. travel industry group said today.

“Wait times are still exorbitant despite marked improvements in countries like India,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the US Travel Association. India’s waiting time for a visa interview by the US State Department has decreased from 999 days in mid-December to 577 days on Jan. 19, it noted.

Other top-10 markets that have experienced “staggering” wait times — including Brazil and Mexico — are also improving, the association said in a statement. Still, “there’s still a lot of work to be done to bring job interview wait times down to acceptable levels” following pandemic disruptions, Freeman said. Today’s figures do not include wait times in China, whose nationals require a visa to travel to the US.

The stakes are high for the US travel industry, a potential bright spot for a US economy facing potential recession this year. The US Travel Association tentatively expects the spending of all international travelers to be around $93 billion by 2022, excluding education and health-related spending. That compares to $180 billion in pre-pandemic 2019. Travelers in the U.S. last year — domestic and foreign — spent about $1.1 trillion, about 10% less than in 2019, the association said.

The U.S. has attempted to reduce the long wait for a visa interview by waiving requirements for renewals of low-risk visitor, worker and student visas, the association said. Covid-related staff shortages of State Department visa personnel are likely to be filled by this summer, reducing job interview wait times to a target of less than 120 days by the end of September, it noted.

Still, the association said, a four-month, 120-day waiting period “would go far beyond what the economy needs for a robust recovery in inbound travel.” In comparison, an executive order required 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants worldwide to be interviewed within 21 days in 2012-2017, it noted.

The total number of foreign visits to the US in 2022 is likely to exceed 50 million travelers, the association said, citing figures from the US Department of Commerce. That compares to 22 million in 2021 and 79 million in 2019. By country, the top 10 sources of US visitors in 2022 were Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, India, Brazil, Colombia, South Korea and Spain.

A notable member of the top 10 in 2019 that may recover in 2023: mainland China. The number of arrivals in China in 2022 fell from 2.8 million in 2019 to about 368,000, the association said. The country has relaxed “zero-Covid” rules, which has already led to more travel bookings and share prices this year for US-listed companies like 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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@rflannerychina

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