Two Years Into the Pandemic, the U.S. Is Still Struggling To Issue Visas

The government has had ample time to figure out how to provide standard visa services in the face of COVID-19, but it’s come up short.


As the United States first began to tackle COVID-19 in March 2020, cross-border movement suffered. Immigration and travel ground to a halt. Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, issues at U.S. embassies and consulates are still preventing tourists, students, and temporary workers from getting their visas.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-related closures and staffing issues in responsible agencies have hobbled legal travel and immigration to the U.S. "As of mid-October, 60 percent of consulates remained fully or partially closed to anything other than emergency nonimmigrant visa appointments, and 40 percent are completely closed to non-emergency nonimmigrant visa appointments," noted Cato Institute immigration research fellow David J. Bier. Bier wrote that only 2 percent of consulates had fully reopened between August and October 2021, despite vaccines being available to all consular officers since May 2021.

Operations are still bleak in 2022. In Toronto, the current wait time for a nonimmigrant visa appointment (excluding visitor and student visas) is 379 days; in Istanbul, 306 days; and in Santiago, 209 days. Wait times for visitor visas are often far worse⁠—running as high as 595 days in Istanbul, 521 days in Mexico City, 598 days in Manila, and available only in emergency cases in Mumbai, among other cities.

Though the U.S. reopened its borders to certain travelers in November 2021, limited visa processing has kept many visa holders trapped in the U.S, fearing that they may not be allowed to reenter the country if they return home to renew their visas. Foreign citizens who hold nonimmigrant U.S. visas may renew their employment authorizations from American soil, but must renew their visas from abroad.

"People have been afraid to travel because they know that if they leave, and they don't have a current visa, that they could be stuck for months on end, almost indefinitely, without being able to get back into the U.S.," immigration lawyer Greg Siskind told Roll Call in December. "I'm still advising people: Don't travel, unless you're prepared to be working remotely for a year."

On December 22, Reps. Peter Meijer (R–Mich.) and Darren Soto (D–Fla.) penned a letter calling on the Biden administration to fully restore visa processing to pre-pandemic levels. An additional 86 members of Congress joined Meijer and Soto in condemning delays for seasonal and short-term workers, as well as those waiting on tourist visas.

"Limited visa processing capacity and extended wait-times are a legacy of measures taken in the early days of the pandemic that are no longer appropriate or necessary as testing and vaccines become more widely available," wrote the lawmakers. As of the letter's writing in late December, the lawmakers noted that 60 percent of U.S. embassies and consulates were partially or completely closed for visa processing. "Just 95 of 237 visa processing sites [were] fully operational," according to The Detroit News.

Permanent visa applicants aren't faring much better. This month, the State Department reported a current backlog of 439,373 immigrant visa applicants whose cases were "documentarily complete" and still needed visa appointments, having only scheduled 26,605 appointments for January. The State Department notes that in 2019, "60,866 applicants were pending the scheduling of an interview each month" on average. In December 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was found to have a backlog of 3.8 million cases.

In an attempt to alleviate current visa processing issues, the State Department announced last month that it would waive in-person interviews for nearly a dozen visa categories, including those for "students, temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers, student exchange visitors…and entertainers." The same week, the Department of Homeland Security said that it would add 20,000 H-2B visas to the cap for fiscal year 2022⁠—a first-ever supplement to the nonimmigrant nonagricultural worker visa program.

These fixes are important and will help heal some of the many forms of international movement that have suffered during the pandemic. Still, legal immigration to the U.S. has completely cratered, officials continue to lean into long-disproven measures that tie border crossings to COVID spread, and routine visa services have stagnated. With vaccines now widely available and nearly two years of the pandemic behind us, it's absurd that visa-issuing officials are still using COVID-19 as an excuse for their inefficiencies.


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  1. Why would we want to let those disease-ridden foreigners into America? Joe Biden JUST beat covid and we want to keep it that way!

  2. As a Koch / Reason libertarian, I always want open borders. Because that's the best way to accomplish our primary objective — making our benefactor Charles Koch even richer. In fact his amazing success is entirely the result of realizing that foreign-born laborers are simply more cost-effective than US-born ones.

    But unlimited, unrestricted immigration is even more desirable during a pandemic. Remember in early 2020 when our hospitals got overrun? Drumpf's fault. Thousands of highly-skilled Mexican doctors were just waiting to cross the border and help, but Orange Hitler wouldn't let them.


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    2. It must be wrenching to get thiiis clooose to reviving a Nazi Christian Front Amerika eager to bully bitches and hassle them hairy hippies and brown people... Suddenly, a couple million Libertarian spoiler votes in three silly States completely wreck all that careful planning. It ain't fair! And it must be deeply hurtful to realize that letting illiterate rednecks with green teeth make laws to kidnap pregnant women could be exploited by women voters as a weapon against The Orange Jesus.

  3. How about the damn bureaucrats just show up for work and do their jobs? Think that might work?

    1. I’d be happy if they never showed up again.

    2. Bureaucrats and crappy laws are the main reason for the streams of desperate, starving refugees clamoring to get into These States--that and the prohibition laws OUR bureaucrats export to weaponize THEIR bureaucrats into full-fledged terrorist dictatorships everyone wants to flee.

  4. "American shelves are dangerously short of illegal immigrants" - Reporters without Borders.

  5. Definitely more important than political prisoners.

  6. Two Years Into the Pandemic, the U.S. Is Still Struggling To Issue Visas. The government has had ample time to figure out how to provide standard visa services in the face of COVID-19, but it’s come up short.

    There's nothing to "figure out". In many cases, visa issuance requires background checks and personal interviews, and those happen to be more difficult under COVID-19 restrictions, both domestic and foreign.

    And given the supposed severity of the pandemic according to the government, strictly limiting visas makes sense anyway.

    1. Much easier when they just cross the river and go straight to welfare. Ayup.

      1. Yes indeed. A slow visa process helps maintain a high ratio of illegal migrants to legal immigrants.

        1. Democrats don't want lots of illegals, they want lots of new leftist voters who don't know any better. Illegal immigration is just a means to that end: the children of illegal immigrants get US citizenship, illegals are counted for congressional districts, and sooner or later, they can push through another amnesty.

  7. Hell, it's been over 2 years and the fucking government still hasn't figured out how to function period. The DoD is having all civilians work only part time right now, so it's been 3 weeks that I've been trying to get my military transcripts, and they haven't even bothered to email me that they received my request.

  8. Meanwhile... Almost 2 million migrants were stopped at the US border last year. Uncounted more were not.

    Having a fight over visas restricting immigration when the border is more pipeline than wall is a fucking joke.

    1. Having a fight over visas restricting immigration when the border is more pipeline than wall is a fucking joke.

      Democrats want to flood the country with new leftist voters. They are using illegal immigration as a means of creating an irreversible situation on the ground on the thinking that once the people are here and established, one way or another they can give them citizenship. That's why it is important to stand firm on restricting visas.

      If we didn't have a massive illegal immigration problem, we could be much more generous with legal immigration.

  9. Sounds like somebody's nanny just quit. What's the matter, Fiona, no illegals in your neighborhood? Ask the guy with the leaf blower.

  10. Thank God, With record 45 million immigrants in 2017, USA needs a long break from such high levels of immigration.

    Of course with companies crying that the usual supply of cheap beholden workers has temporarily DRIED UP, with wages (finally) rising some, it wont be long before they DEMAND to expand the immigration spigots.

    When supply of labor is suppressing wages, it goes to congress for a quick fix instead of letting supply/demand cure any shortage.

  11. Legal immigrants you want coming to America have little trouble with visas. Many who are able are put off by the prospect of being canned in a pressurized container for many hours, then being prodded like cattle by the Airport Gestapo. Unemployable illiterate terrorists, criminals and folks with no skills or education are indeed finding it harder to get past normal screening, and WAY harder to sneak across. One can hope they wake up and demand the US quit sending terror agents to THEIR countries to wreck the economy and back cruel laws that make people flee.

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