The past year saw big victories for worldwide visa operations.
The Department of State recently provided statistics summarizing its visa processing capacity in the year 2023. The recent data shows tremendous advancement in visa processing capacity at Consular posts globally and provides a strong outlook for visa processing in the year 2024.
In the year 2023, the Department of State issued more nonimmigrant visas at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies worldwide than at any other time since 2015.
This included issuing a record of 10.4 million nonimmigrant visas globally, with more than 1 million nonimmigrant visas issued in a single month during March of 2023.
Some of the State Department’s accomplishments include:
- The reunification of families, with the issuance of 563,000 immigrant visas (IVs) in FY 2023, with 30 of its missions issuing their largest number of immigrant visas ever. Consular sections worldwide have reduced the overall immigrant visa interview scheduling backlog by nearly half, from nearly 532,000 in July 2021, to just over 275,500.
- Prioritizing student and academic exchange visitor visa interviews to facilitate study at U.S. universities and colleges. Consular sections issued 830,000 student and exchange visitor visas in FY 2023, more than in any year since FY 2016. More than 600,000 of those were for students pursuing an education in the United States, many of them from countries sending record numbers of students. Of these numbers, nearly 40,000 visas were issued to African students which set an all-time record.
- Record numbers of visas were issued for seasonal agricultural and non-agricultural workers to facilitate the legal and orderly flow of labor. A record-breaking 442,000 visas were issued to H-2A and H-2B temporary workers in 2023, with nearly 90 percent of visas issued to workers from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
- A record number of 365,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued to airline and shipping crewmembers (C1/D) which are essential to maintaining international transportation and supply chains that support the U.S. and global economies.
- Consular posts issued a record number of 590,000 nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to high-skilled workers and executives in sectors ranging from emerging technology to healthcare. The State Department issued almost double the number of EB-3 visas in FY 2023 than in FY 2019.
- The State Department issued all available Diversity Visas during the DV-2023 program year to qualified applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
- The National Vetting Center dramatically reduced the number of visa applicants who are required to wait in administrative processing thanks to new technology and enhanced inter-agency coordination.
The State Department has said that its goal is to reduce visitor visa wait times for applicants requiring in-person interviews especially at U.S. Consulates and Embassies experiencing a high demand for appointments. New tools and technological advancements are currently being made to optimize the application process.
By 2024, the State Department hopes to cut down visitor visa interview wait times to less than 90 days at more than 90 percent of its Consular posts overseas.
The State Department is also continuing its interview waiver policy for several key visa categories of applicants, including students and temporary workers that are essential to critical U.S. industries and supply chains. The Department’s interview waiver policy was previously set to expire on December 31, 2023. However, its implementation will continue starting on January 1, 2024, and remain in place until further notice.
Additionally, applicants renewing nonimmigrant visas in the same classification within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration are eligible to apply for renewal, without an in-person interview in their country of nationality or residence.
Foreign nationals are taking advantage of this streamlined renewal process to receive their visas faster. The State Department estimates that 40 percent of 10.4 million travelers who received their U.S. nonimmigrant visas in the past 12 months did not require an in-person interview due to the interview waiver policy. This in turn helped open interview slots for other first-time applicants who need them.
Consular Posts with Long Wait Times
While great improvements have been made in the visa application process, the reality remains that some countries are facing visa demand that far outweighs the availability of interview appointments. For that reason, visitor visa applicants may still be confronted with long wait times in certain countries with historically high levels of visa demand.
To avoid delays, the State Department encourages any visa applicant who can travel to another Embassy or Consulate experiencing shorter wait times to do so. The Department has said that it recognizes that there are reasons for applying anywhere appointments are available, even outside an applicant’s home country, and will not disadvantage applicants who chose to take this route.
Domestic Visa Renewal Pilot Program for H-1B Nonimmigrants
The State Department also reminds applicants that it will be launching its domestic visa renewal pilot program starting January 29, 2024, through April 1, 2024. The pilot program will allow 20,000 qualified H-1B nonimmigrant workers the opportunity to renew their visas domestically, without requiring them to leave the United States. While the program is limited to H-1B workers, in the future, the Department plans to expand the program to more temporary workers residing in the United States allowing them to renew their visas domestically.
Additionally, after assessing the results of the limited pilot, the Department will determine how to broaden the domestic renewal program to an expanded pool of applicants and petition-based visa categories in 2024.
These are exciting new developments that will surely reduce the immigrant and non-immigrant visa backlogs in the new year and make it easier for workers to renew their visas inside the United States.
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- Worldwide Visa Operations: Update
- Department of State to Process Domestic Visa Renewals in Limited Pilot Program
- Pilot Program To Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the United States for Certain Qualified Noncitizens
- Important Update on Waivers of the Interview Requirement for Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants
- January 2024 Visa Bulletin
- Adjustment of Status Filing Dates from Visa Bulletin
- USCIS Announces End of COVID-Related Flexibilities
- USCIS Processing Times
- Immigrant Visa Backlog Report
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