WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been exactly one year since the U.S. government reopened the borders to international passengers arriving by air, and the visa wait time nightmare continues.
First-time B-1/B-2 applicants still face interview wait times of 400+ days in some countries, according to the U.S Travel Association, which predicts that in 2023, the U.S. will lose 7 million travelers due to this issue — many of them exhibitors and attendees.
The Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA) has been calling on the Biden Administration and State Department to address the situation. “There are several near-term steps that the State Department can take to remedy the current situation, including focusing on key countries (e.g., Brazil, Mexico, and India), expanding interview waivers for nonimmigrant visa renewals to include low-risk visitor visas, and conducting group appointments for applicants looking to come to the U.S. for large face-to-face business events,” Tommy Goodwin, Vice President of Government Affairs, said.
The recently introduced Visitor Visa Wait Time Reduction Act and favorable report language accompanying the House of Representatives’ FY2023 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill are steps in the right direction, Goodwin said. “With the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) recently finding that the industry is still down 25.5% from pre-pandemic levels, we hope the new Congress will engage in bipartisan oversight to ensure that the Biden Administration and State Department are appropriately prioritizing this ongoing problem going forward.”
The week of Nov. 28, U.S. Travel will launch a multi-pronged campaign to bring visibility to the issue. It will include a custom web site where affected travelers can post testimonials about waiting for a visa and business owners can provide statements of missed business opportunities associated with fewer international visitors. It will also be featured on social media across multiple platforms using the hashtag #TheyWaitWeLose.
ECA anticipates that visa processing delays will continue to impact events well into 2023. “While ECA and the broader industry advocates for solutions in Washington, D.C., we encourage show organizers to communicate with their would-be international exhibitors and attendees about the importance of beginning the visa application process as early as possible to increase the likelihood of success,” Goodwin said.
Reach Tommy Goodwin at (703) 672-0780 or firstname.lastname@example.org