2023 Update on U.S. Visa Processing Worldwide

112823 DCFPC Briefing CA DAS Julie Stufft Visa Update Public Domain State Dept SLBrukbacher 3056

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. 

MODERATOR:  Great.  Well, good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center.  My name is Doris Robinson, and I’m the briefing moderator.  Today’s briefing is an Update on U.S. Visa Processing Worldwide.  As a reminder, this briefing is on the record, and a transcript will be posted later at fpc.state.gov.  For those of you on Zoom, please make sure your name and media outlet are listed on your Zoom profile. 

With that, I am very pleased to introduce our briefer today, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs Julie Stufft.  She will start with opening remarks, and then we will open to your questions.  (Inaudible.) 

MS STUFFT:  Thank you very much, Doris, and thank you for everyone who’s joining us today.  I’m very, very pleased to be here to update you on our U.S. visa processing at our overseas posts.  We are – I’m just looking at the data from our Fiscal Year 2023, which runs from October to October.  So our fiscal year in the U.S. Government just ended, and I can share those statistics with you.  We will also have updated statistics I think for the calendar year, which may be of interest as well. 

The – our visa processing in Fiscal Year 2023, we had set goals to return to pre-pandemic processing, which for us was 2019, like most organizations.  In that – in 2019, we issued about 8.5 million visas, U.S. visas.  This was significantly more than we were able to do last year, and of course during the pandemic we – our operations were very limited.  So we thought that it was an ambitious goal to look at 2019 numbers and try to get back to that level. 

In fact, at the end of the fiscal year we realized this month that we did significantly more than that.  Our overseas posts issued more than 10.5 million visas, so 2 million more than we had anticipated being able to (inaudible), and almost hitting the highest level that we’ve ever done in any year at our overseas missions.  Half of our overseas missions set their own record for that country for adjudication of visas of that country, and that includes several that are represented here at this briefing.  And worldwide, we set records for visa adjudication for work visas and for student visas, as well (inaudible) categories. 

I would say that if I had to sum this up in one phrase, I would say that more people who are seeking to visit the United States today can visit the United States immediately than ever before in the past; that is, there are more people who hold U.S. visas that are valid or can travel without visa status to the U.S. tomorrow if they board a flight than at any time in our history.  Very, very excited to be able to say that. 

Let me also say what we’re working on for 2024 in this next year.  Obviously, we – we’re still working very hard on reducing wait time.  In some – say, a handful – of our overseas locations, we still have very high wait times, some exceeding a year still for one category of visa, which is a first-time visitor, someone who needs an interview for their visa.  All other categories have low wait times globally.  But we’re very focused on the first-time visitor interview wait time.  And what’s very interesting to us is that many of the places where we’ve set records for visa production this year are the same places where we still have really high wait time.  This just indicates a very high level of demand, and we’re going to use this year to really get control of that in these five or six places with very high wait times. 

We have a couple of other innovations that you’ve heard me maybe talk about before that I want to highlight for you that we’re doing in 2024.  One is domestic renewal of visas.  This is being run as a pilot starting next month and into the beginning of the calendar year, 2024.  What this means is that people who are living and working in the United States on a long-term work visa do not have to leave the United States to apply for their next visa or to renew their visa.  They would be able to send it to us here in Washington, have it renewed without leaving the country and sent back to them in their own passport. 

This is a huge undertaking; we’re very excited about it.  We’re starting small with a pilot of 20,000 visas in December, January, February, and we look forward to opening that to more categories of workers living in the United States in the rest of 2024.  This is a very exciting program.  We did do it in the past; the last time we did it was about 20 years ago, and now we’re ready to restart that. 

We’re also very focused on waiving visa interviews where we can, specifically for prior travelers.  So U.S. border policy has been this year to allow interviews to be waived for visa applicants who previously traveled to the United States, and we hope to continue that in the next year. 

And I will highlight that we did our first small-scope pilot of a paperless visa, which means that the visa process is the same, but there is a – there’s no physical visa in someone’s passport.  This is still just – piloted this for the first time, so this is not something that’s going to be happening in the next year.  It’ll take us probably 18 months to have widespread use of this – or longer – but it’s very exciting that we’ve had this first step where we’ve actually seen visitors come through, and in this case they were immigrant visas, without a physical paper in their passport.  That will ultimately in the future, as some other countries do, require an app or something that allows people to show their visa status without physical paper in their passport.  We’re very, very excited about that. 

So just to summarize what I’ve said to this point before your questions, we’ve had really staggering levels of visa adjudication production this year worldwide.  We’ve had good progress on wait times.  The average global wait times have reduced – last year they were about 200 days average worldwide, and then a few months ago 150 days, and now we’re closer to 140 days, and that continues to drop.  We’re very excited and we’ve got more work to do on that, and we’re really focused on these innovations that will fundamentally change the way we do visa work in our U.S. missions overseas. 

Thank you.  Good to take questions. 

MODERATOR:  So for those in room, please raise your hand if you have a question and I will call on you.  For those online, please raise your virtual hand and I will call on (inaudible) make sure you state name.  So let’s start in the room with Lalit Jha, Press Trust of India. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you for doing this.  I wanted to ask you about this – the small scope of paperless visa.  Can you describe this more (inaudible)?  How does it work?  How many have been issued so far?  And how is it (inaudible)? 

MS STUFFT:  This is the paperless visa.  Yes, so our process is identical to the way it is.  It’s not a – it’s not a visa that’s adjudicated electronically.  It’s not processed electronically.  Someone may still need an interview or to come and speak to a consular officer, but ultimately there will be no piece of paper.  This saves everyone – I can’t tell you – a tremendous amount of effort in getting these very secure visa foils shipped out to all of our posts overseas, and this is just basically a very modern way to speak to the airlines and to the ports of entry at airports and the State Department all together to make this happen.  We wanted to do this, frankly, for a long time, but now we have the full ability electronically to message someone’s visa status, and this is going to be a huge help for these applicants going forward. 

QUESTION:  And when will this pilot – small pilot program (inaudible)? 

MS STUFFT:  Yes, well, we’ve already done a small pilot, now we’re branching out to other types of visas.  We started with our embassy in Dublin was where we first tried this, because there is an airport facility there with U.S. officials who could check if someone boarded a plane, but we fully expect to expand that regionally and throughout the world.  It will be piece by piece, but we’ll keep you updated on that. 

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  (Inaudible) Brazil.  I want to ask what is the wait in line from Brazil, how many months?  It’s one of the countries (inaudible) longest waiting lines.  What is (inaudible) for next year to speed this process, and if Brazil was included in the (inaudible) that you just mentioned? 

MODERATOR:  Can you state your name for the transcript 

QUESTION:  Oh, sorry, yeah.  Fernanda, Fola de Sao Paulo, Brazil. 

MS STUFFT:  Thank you, and thank you very much.  Brazil actually is becoming one of our success stories.  This year we – we did more visas, issued more visas in Brazil than I think ever before in the history of our missions in Brazil.  That’s actually true for India as well, but that’s a tremendous amount of visas – I think more than 1 million visas were issued in Brazil. 

You mentioned that there’s still high wait time.  That’s come down a lot in the last few months.  We feel like Brazil is at the point where we’re going to be at a very reasonable wait time very soon.  Now we’re finished with student season, but it took a tremendous amount of work by all of our missions there.  The pilot – there were a couple pilots I spoke about.  Our domestic renewal of visas, certainly as that expands, Brazilians who are living and working in the U.S. will be able to (inaudible). 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And regarding the paperless visa? 

MS STUFFT:  Paperless visa, absolutely –we don’t have that next step yet, because it is the longest program that we’re looking at, but we’re very excited to roll that out in Brazil.  That would be great.   

QUESTION:  Okay, thank you. 

MS STUFFT:  We’re – let me state again how proud we are of our team in Brazil, because they took a – you might remember there was a tremendously high wait time in Brazil for first-time tourists (inaudible). 

QUESTION:  Yeah.  (Laughter.) 

MS STUFFT:  And now that has come down significantly.  I don’t – we can get you the information as to what it is today, but that was a lot of work.  It involved just record-breaking amount of work to get on the right side of that. 

QUESTION:  And do you know why (inaudible) in Brazil so high?  Is just because of the pandemic or are there any other reasons? 

MS STUFFT:  That’s a wonderful question, because we – with the level of work that we’ve done, we might expect that more of our posts had very low wait time.  The vast majority of our posts have very low wait times, but these very large-demand markets like Brazil or Colombia or Mexico or India still have persisting high wait times.  And so for us, this says that this is not COVID-related; this is not a hangover, if you will, from the COVID pandemic (inaudible) largely (inaudible).  It’s something else.  It’s high demand, high interest in visiting the United States, high interest in working and studying in the United States, and it’s across all visa categories in these countries, which is wonderful and which we welcome.  But it is interesting, because it’s not as much of the pandemic that we’re seeing now, it’s just sheer (inaudible). 

MODERATOR:  We’ll take the next question online from Igor Patrick with South China Morning Post. 

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me? 

MODERATOR:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this.  Yeah, I have a very short question, actually.  During the bilateral summit in San Francisco, President Biden and Xi Jinping, they announced that they would take measures to speed up visas processing for both Chinese tourists and students.  So I was just wondering if there is anything new on that.  Like, is there any new initiative for Chinese nationals next year?  That’s all.  Thank you. 

MS STUFFT:  Yeah, another great question.  So you’re right; we have made a tremendous amount of effort for countries to make it possible.  I know that on our side we are ready to process Chinese visas in China for any category, whether they be visitors or students or repeat travelers.  As you probably know, the flights are not – the number of flights between the two countries are not what they were before the pandemic, and our visa demand in China is not what it was before the pandemic.  But when it gets to that point – and we believe it is increasing – we have the resources in China to process those visas.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll go online for one more, and then we’ll come here.  So let’s go to Pearl Matibe.  Pearl, go ahead with your question.   

QUESTION:  DAS Stufft, this is Pearl and I’m reporting for Premium Times Nigeria.  I appreciate your availability and doing this today.  I understand what you’ve told us so far is really sort of a worldwide view.  If you could turn your attention to my regional focus, which is Sub-Saharan Africa, in fact, a couple of things here, which if you – if we can’t get into it, maybe I can reach out to your office for more information.   

But if you recall, under former President Donald Trump there was some not-so-kind rhetoric regarding – and in fact limiting Nigerians from entering the United States, right.  There was a ban.  There was some sort of identity management.  So what I’d like to find out from you is, since then, so since January 2021 through now, what improvements, what has changed, in terms of what you’re doing visa-wise and being inclusive to all nationalities on the African continent being able to travel to the United States? 

And I know you mentioned this first your first time – could you explain a little bit more?  What is the reason why someone really has to wait 12 months?  To me, that sounds like an incredibly long time.  If you could explain the justification a little bit there why a country like the United States, with all the resources that you have, would have to restrict someone to wait for an entire year.  Like for example, if I’m going to be having a family event in May and I want a family member to come who hasn’t come to visit me yet, okay, coming from South Africa – there’s tons of family in South Africa, Zimbabwe – they’ve got to wait an entire year?  It seems to me a very unreasonable approach, but I would – I’m interested to hear what your justification on things of this nature are.   

I’m also interested to hear which countries in Africa might have high demand, which ones might you say are high-demand countries.  Is it Nigeria?  Is it South Africa?  Is it other countries?  Thanks so much. 

MS STUFFT:  Thank you, Pearl, for those great questions.  Let me take the one about the 12-month wait first.  You mentioned that 12-month waits for a visa to apply to go and visit family, or frankly any reason to go to the United States, is too long.  And I cannot tell you how strongly I agree with you on that.  Twelve months is not something that I can justify, because it’s not what we want to happen.  We would much rather see wait times be a week to two weeks, as they are in about half of our posts overseas.  So when we see these very long wait times, a year or more, these are an anomaly that comes out of the pandemic but the delays in some cases that I mentioned because of the demand.   

You mentioned – let me talk about Nigeria specifically.  Nigeria is one of the places – we have two posts in Nigeria – where we have processed more visas this year, I think issued more visas this year, than I think any other year previously.  We can double-check on that, but huge gains have been made in Nigeria to accommodate the demand.  It’s a very high-demand place for us – and not just for visitors but for students and workers in many categories.  So I see that the wait times are coming down in Nigeria.  I know that they’ve been doing incredible work there to make that happen.  And that is our goal for sure, to make those wait times go down.   

Expanding to the rest of Africa, I do want to highlight that we issued more student visas for African – in the Africa region this year than ever before.  That’s something that we’re extremely proud of, and we hope to continue that trend.  A lot of it is just very high demand for student experience in the United States from students in Africa, which is also great.  But as we work through the wait times and make sure that we can manage this, we are absolutely placing the Africa region as a priority in that to make sure that we keep wait times low and make it possible for people to apply.   

The 12-month wait time you mentioned, of course our fear with this – and many of our colleagues in the U.S. Government have the same fear – is that people will choose not to come to the United States because of a wait time like that.  They may pivot to another country to study or to work or choose a different location for their vacation, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have time for about two more questions.  We will go online first.  Let’s go to Alex Raufoglu, Turan News Agency Azerbaijan.   

QUESTION:  Hey Doris, thank you so much for doing this.  I have a couple questions.  Just bear with me, Madam Deputy Assistant Secretary.  Correct me if I’m wrong with numbers here, but I do want to clear up a few things here.  In addition to near-historic total of more than 4 million nonimmigrant visas issues worldwide, you said you also issued nearly 8 million visitor visas for business and tourism.  It’s more than any fiscal year since 2015.   

Is it fair to say that you are also receiving more visa applications worldwide, or is it just a reflection of your increase in productivity?  If so, are you in a position to break it down into regions?  I’m – I represent South Caucasus media agency.  I’m just curious if you are – if you – if it’s fair for me to claim that there are more applications from my region among tourists and – for nonimmigrant visas to the U.S. 

My second question.  Some Ukrainian students, as you know, in the U.S. universities had some issues with F-1 visa.  They were asking for to be given – to be granted with a work permit.  I’m not sure if this has been handled.  Just wanted to ask about that. 

And finally, let me pick your brain on something that has been discussed in Europe for a while about Russians.  Every EU country, they were discussing the possibility of adding, quote/unquote, Ukraine reconstruction fee for all visa applications by Russian citizens.  Is this something that you guys have been entertaining on your end? 

Thank you so much again.  It’s a very helpful briefing. 

MS STUFFT:  Thanks very much.  No, we have a global fee for visas but it’s the same worldwide. 

On Ukrainian students, I will say that that – I would defer to the Department of Homeland Security.  They’re handling cases of folks who already in the United States on those student visas. 

Your question about the number – the demand versus productivity, I’d say it’s a little bit both, but extremely productive thanks to the innovations I mentioned and people working very, very hard.  But also there is high demand in our large demand markets, even higher than we’ve seen in the past. 

I think that’s all of them.  Were there any questions I missed?  Sorry.  We can get you more specific region-based information, I think, after this briefing. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And we have time for one more question.  Let’s go here. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ms. Stufft.  I am Jia from China’s Caixin Media.  My question, first question, is about President Xi recently announced that next year he wants to invite 50,000 U.S. students to study in China.  And we know the current number is about 300 and 400, so I assume China would have to announce some streamlined measures for U.S. students.  Has there been such discussions or are such discussions going on?  

And also, recently China surprisingly announced a visa waiver program for a number of European countries and Malaysia.  Has there been similar discussions between the United States and China regarding – U.S. visitors still have to apply for a short-term visa to visit China? 

And also, we’ve been reporting on the open door report recently, and we noticed that U.S. – Chinese students studying U.S., number of it has been going down in the past few years.  Maybe could you provide us with more details about this?  For example, if we compared the rejection rate of student visas of 2022 to 2021, is there a shift? 

MS STUFFT:  Okay, great.  I may forget a couple of things, so we might go back and ask you. 

But looking at the third one, you’re right, Chinese students in the United States were – have traditionally been the largest group of foreign students studying in the United States.  The last couple of years it’s been overtaken by India; the number of Indian students is higher.  And of course there are fluctuations, but Chinese students are very welcome to apply for a visa and are quite successful in doing that.  They have a very high approval rate, and we have the capacity to interview as many Chinese students who seek (inaudible) the United States. 

The visa waiver question, so I did see that in the news actually.  And it’s always exciting when barriers are removed for people to travel.  Our visa procedures in the U.S. are based on the last and they’re – they’re equal across countries.  So we don’t have the ability to negotiate specific visa waiver conditions with a specific country unless they meet certain requirements, because we have a Visa Waiver Program, as you might know.   

I’m not aware of any discussions, bilateral discussions, taking place on that.  But as was mentioned, I think in the spring the Secretary of Commerce and others – and I hope that we will be there as well – will be traveling for a summit on tourism to China.  This is a high priority of both governments, so who knows what will happen on that.   

And then the first question?  

QUESTION:  It’s about if 50,000 U.S. students —  

MS STUFFT:  Oh, right.  Yes.  I can’t comment on that, because I’m not too familiar with China’s visa procedures for foreign students coming to China.  But certainly, that’s very exciting to hear that those American students are welcome there. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

MS STUFFT:  We will do the same for Chinese students seeking to come to America.  

MODERATOR:  We have one final question from Senegal.  Let’s go to Ahmadou Kane. 

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you so much, Doris.  Thank you.  So my question is about this – if you have any data studies – data about denial non-immigrant visa in Senegal, West Africa.  And do you think there is a link between that statistic data and the massive immigration, unlawful immigration?  Thank you. 

MS STUFFT:  Thank you.  I don’t believe I can share anything today with you about visa denials in any specific country.  But I will comment on your general question about – I think you’re seeking whether those are going up or down.  We’ve had a tremendous amount of demand coming out of Senegal this year, and I think they might have also broken records on their processing – I’m not sure – which is great.  That’s exactly what we’re seeking. 

In terms of if the Department of Homeland Security, who generally looks at what we call overstay rates, someone who violated the terms of their visa in the United States – they share that publicly, but they also share it with us, and our consular officers overseas do see that, so that they can calibrate their own interviews overseas to what Department of Homeland Security is seeing in the U.S., with any given nationality.   

So we do have that ability to look at the statistics.  But everyone in the whole world is being interviewed based on the same visa law, and we make sure that our consular officers overseas are doing that in the same way, whether it be Senegal, China, or any other country.   

MODERATOR:  Deputy Assistant Secretary, I’ll bring it back to you for closing remarks.  

MS STUFFT:  This has been wonderful.  Thank you.  I’d just – thank you to the Foreign Press Center for this.  This is great, our first time here in person.  We are very eager to share any data that we have on visas.  We will probably share more at the end of the calendar year.  Some of the countries represented here, again, have just – the amount of work and the amount of visa level and processing that’s been done in those countries, especially Brazil and India here in the room, have just – has been tremendous.  And as we get past the huge demand wave that we see, we’re very excited to bring down wait times that are still high and see increased processing in places like China. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  This concludes today’s briefing.  Thank you. 

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