Washington — In January, President Obama issued an executive order aimed at vastly improving the visa application and entry process for visitors to the United States. Working together, the departments of State and Homeland Security have exceeded the president’s goals, cutting interview wait times and streamlining visa processing without compromising security.
The White House released a report detailing the results of these efforts on September 19. The report reveals that the U.S. Mission in Brazil reached a milestone in visa processing, joining Mexico and China as the only U.S. missions that process more than 1 million visas each year.
Brazil’s dramatic increase in visa processing marks a growth of almost 37 percent from last fiscal year. Along with increased capacity, wait times for obtaining visas have dropped substantially.
While the president’s executive order required that 80 percent of all nonimmigrant visa applicants receive interviews within three weeks of submitting their application, the departments of State and Homeland Security ensured that 88 percent of applicants worldwide are now interviewed within that timeframe.
Applicants once waited up to 140 days to obtain a visa in São Paulo, but the Consulate General there has brought that wait time down to just two days. Across Brazil, consular officers have decreased wait times by 98 percent from last year.
The substantial increase in visa processing in Brazil is not an isolated success. The U.S. Mission in China now keeps interview wait times to an average of five days while at the same time managing a growing regional demand for U.S. travel visas.
Much of the departments of State and Homeland Security’s success can be attributed to a pilot program that allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain low-risk applicants looking to renew expired visas. Active in 28 countries, the program has waived interviews for more than 120,000 applicants to date.
The State Department also increased the capacities of individual embassies and consulates by creating 50 new visa adjudicator positions in China and 60 in Brazil. A new program that targets recruits with Mandarin and Portuguese language skills brought in 43 of the new visa adjudicators.
“Every year, tens of millions of tourists come from all over the world to visit America. That’s good for business, it’s good for the economy, and it’s good for our country,” stated President Obama in the White House progress report.
Progress continues as the State Department invests millions of dollars to upgrade and expand its existing consular facilities. By 2014, the department will open new consulate buildings in Guangzhou and Wuhan in China and Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre in Brazil. The State Department will build improved facilities in Mexico as well, with new buildings opening in Monterrey in 2014.
Since the president issued the order to ensure faster visa processing in January, the departments of State and Homeland Security have made international travel to the United States easier and more accessible. “I’m glad we’re making progress and I’ll continue to do whatever I can to strengthen the travel and tourism industry,” President Obama said.
A copy of the progress report (PDF, 1.4MB) is available on the White House website.