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Visa Wait Times Remain Embarrassingly High for Millions of Potential U.S. Visitors

-Editorial

A new analysis from U.S. Travel Association shows a concerning lack of progress to dramatically reduce interview wait times for first-time visitor visa applicants—which still exceed a year in the top 10 visa-requiring markets to the U.S.

“Millions of potential visitors to the U.S.—who want to come here to purchase American products, see their families and otherwise support the American economy—have no choice but to plan trips years or go elsewhere, given these outrageous wait times,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman. “It’s completely unacceptable and sends a message to the world that international visitors—and their spending—aren’t welcome here.”

Average current wait times for a first-time visitor visa interview in some of the largest visa-requiring markets for inbound travel to the U.S. (as of March 21):

  • Colombia: 886 days
  • Mexico: 587 days
  • Brazil: 492 days
  • India: 458 days
  • China: 77 days

USVisaDelays.com—part of the U.S. Travel Association’s “They Wait, We Lose” initiative—highlights the toll excessive visitor visa wait times have on potential visitors and U.S. businesses.

LOSING THE COMPETITIVE EDGE

Other countries with whom the U.S. directly competes for international visitor spending have taken steps to facilitate more seamless visitation. For example, the United Kingdom in November dropped its visitor visa requirement for Colombia, a top inbound market to the U.S. currently facing average wait times of nearly 900 days. Further, the U.S. is also the only country that still has a vaccine requirement for international visitors.

“Travel leaders worldwide are focusing on the economic opportunity of increased travel and passionately competing to attract global travelers, while the U.S. government has maintained roadblocks in the form of excessively long visa wait times and an outdated vaccination policy for entry,” said Freeman.

U.S. Travel Association estimates a loss in 2023 of 2.6 million visitors and $7 billion in spending due to likely international travelers’ inability to secure a visitor visa. These losses make it more difficult to achieve the Biden administration’s goal of attracting 90 million international visitors and $279 billion in spending annually by 2027.

“The State Department has not yet done enough to solve this problem, and the vexing lack of progress is hindering the growth of the broader U.S. economy,” added Freeman.

This comes after a report that was published saying inbound traffic will be at pre-pandemic levels by 2025.

The National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) recently released an international visitation forecast, its first since the onset of the pandemic. The forecast, which extends until 2027, projects that inbound travel will fully recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2025. This is consistent with U.S. Travel’s fall 2022 forecast. By 2027, NTTO projects that there will be 91 million international visitations, which is in line with the government’s recently-announced National Travel and Tourism Strategy.

By the Numbers:

  • In 2023, NTTO expects total visitations to remain far behind, at 79% of pre-pandemic levels. Japan and China—our second and third largest overseas markets in 2019—are projected to lag at just 39% and 30%, respectively. The only major market that is forecast to be fully recovered this year in Colombia, with India and the Netherlands just slightly behind. Despite a near-complete recovery from Canada in October and November (relative to those months in 2019), NTTO expects that the total 2023 visitations from our northern neighbor will remain at just 81% of 2019 levels.
  • In 2024, the recovery is expected to pick up significantly, reaching 94% of pre-pandemic levels.
  • In 2027, NTTO projects that inbound travel will reach 115% of 2019 levels. Even then, the recovery is expected to remain uneven, ranging from India (projected at 126% of 2019 levels in 2027) to Japan (only 93%).

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