Sunil Dhar's younger son is getting married in June and he has a unique task to complete: ensuring that everyone is in their correct country.
The Dhars hail from the San Francisco Bay Area. The wedding will take place in Blaine, Wash. near the Peace Arch. This monument is located along the border between the United States of America and Canada, with a park that extends to both countries. The park is a neutral area where people can mix from both sides without having to go through immigration checkpoints.
The bride's parents who live in Delhi can only attend if they have a visitor visa. Visitors visas are required to enter the United States. The wait in India for this visa is almost a year.
The wedding will be held in the American Kitchen, a building that can be rented in the southern part of the park. Parents and other relatives of the bride, who have Canadian visas already, will enter from the northern part in British Columbia. Parking lot on American side is the furthest south they can travel without showing immigration documents and IDs.
Mr. Dhar said that he didn't want to see the same thing happen again as a result of visa issues at his son's wedding in the Bay Area last year, especially with his future daughter-in law's family.
"This is a moment that will last a lifetime," said Mr. Dhar. I would not want her to miss her parents at her wedding.
Not just India. There are long waiting times for travelers from all over the world to apply for visas to visit the United States. Brazilian and Mexican applicants must wait over a year. The wait in Colombia stretches until 2025.
In Kashmir, the Indian government has revived local militias within the Jammu region of the restive area. This shows the limitations of India's military strategy in that part of the world.
Families are suffering from the emotional impact of delays. Many immigrants do not know when they can see their parents. Many celebrations have been delayed because family members are unable come to the United States.
American citizens are allowed to travel into more than 100 countries without a Visa. The visa waiver program in the United States is open to 40 countries. But millions of people from around the globe who do not belong to one of those countries must apply first before they can travel there.
The B1/B2 Visa is usually granted for business or personal trips. It requires an appointment in person at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy to provide digital photos and fingerprints and be interviewed. In this interview, the applicant must show that they are a strong citizen of their country and intend to return there. They also need to have a legitimate reason to visit the United States. The bottleneck is at this step.
As the coronavirus spread, U.S. Consular offices worldwide ceased operations in 2020 and stopped processing visa applications. As applications started to flood in, officials were overwhelmed.
Annelise Araujo, immigration lawyer and former chair of American Immigration Lawyers Association New England Chapter, said that there was a huge backlog created during the two years the posts were closed around the globe. 'And I don't think they have enough resources to get caught up.'
In the United States, an influx of passport applications linked to the pandemic has overloaded passport centers that are understaffed, leading to delays ranging from 10 to 13 weeks for both new passports as well as renewals.
The State Department stated that it was aiming to reach a staffing level of pre-pandemic at U.S. Visa offices abroad by September 30.
Even before the pandemic hit, Brazil, Colombia Mexico and India were among our largest operations around the globe. Julie M. Stufft said, in an interview, that we have increased staffing at these locations. We issued more tourist visas in Mexico and Brazil last year than before the pandemic. India will experience the same thing this year.
Ms. Stufft stated that the department will also launch a pilot program in the fall to allow for certain work visas to be renewed within the United States. This would enable some applicants to avoid having to spend time and money to leave the United States again to reapply. She said that this program would help to reduce the workload for visa officers overseas: 'We could take off their hands and allow them to see more B1/B2 first-time applicants.
The Department has waived the requirement to interview for those who have had a visa within the last two years. Ms. Stufft stated that this was the "preferred method" of reducing wait times over other options, such as video interviews.
Interviews are still required for all other applicants.
Signs that warn foreign tourists to stay away
International visitor numbers still lag behind domestic travel. The National Travel and Tourism Office of the Department of Commerce reported that international arrivals in the United States continued to decline by nearly 40% from pre-pandemic levels.
According to National Travel and Tourism Office statistics, Brazil, India Mexico and Colombia are the four countries that send the most international visitors to the United States. Applicants in these four countries are experiencing the longest delays. State Department data show that more than 2.4 millions visas for visitors were issued to citizens of the four countries in fiscal 2019, which was the last year before travel became a problem.
Before the pandemic, international visitors contributed $239 Billion to the U.S. Travel Economy. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office's latest data, this figure will drop to $83 billion by 2021.
The travel industry has urged the government to take more action on the backlog.
We have people who want to spend their money in America and we are putting a sign that says 'Keep out' before them. We are basically telling these travelers that America is closed to business. Geoff Freeman of the U.S. Travel Association said that this was a short-sighted and damaging decision.
Congress is also involved. In February, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the Bureau of Consular Affairs asking that it address the problem of visa delays.
While more tourists from all over the country are visiting Nevada, helping to boost our tourism industry's recovery, international visitor numbers still lag behind pre Covid levels. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Tourism Subcommittee, and who was among the legislators who signed the letter, said: 'We have more work ahead of us to bring back international tourism.
The CES show is held in Las Vegas every year, and it's where consumer electronics and technology companies display the latest innovations.
According to the Consumer Technology Association, more than a third (nearly 119,000) of attendees in January came from abroad, and about 2,700 were from countries that experienced visa delays. Gary Shapiro said that at least some exhibitors were unable to attend CES due to visa delays.
Bruno Da Costa is the head of Global Leaders Experience. This Brazilian company runs a program that offers experience to C-suite executives. The program takes place every year on two or three trips to the United States. 40-50 executives attend companies, network at events, and spend their free time exploring cities.
Participants will usually wait until they can get a visa in time for a future trip, which is typically within the next few weeks. Da Costa has rethought his strategy due to the long waiting times.
"If the border gets closed, we have to adapt, and we have to redirect our participants in a different direction," Mr. Da Costa stated.
The next group of executives will be sent to Israel and Dubai.