Travelers wishing to visit the United States for tourism, business and family visits have expressed frustration over delays in obtaining interview dates to obtain visas.
BusinessDay findings show that the earliest time to get interview dates is in 2024, while the “DropBox” option is only open to those whose visas expired within two years.
DropBox is the facility or process used to apply for visa renewal without the visa interview. This is a facility to submit documents without maintenance. The DropBox installation makes visa renewals quick and easy by helping applicants eliminate the requirement for an in-person visa interview.
Any applicant whose visa has expired beyond two years and those applying for the first time will need to apply for interview dates.
US visa applicants must appear in person for a visa interview at the Embassy in Abuja or the Consulate General in Lagos. Applicants are required to schedule the interview, either online or through a call center.
Apart from students, those traveling for emergencies and medical care, the first interview dates are years away.
Also read; US consulate explains new visa program, says no drop box
“We do not encourage people to buy tickets to travel to the United States for family visits, business or tourism, because the visa process is very daunting. Applicants will have to wait more than two years to get interview dates and they’re not even sure they’ll get the term visas,” Gina Ogonna, travel agent at Green Travels, told BusinessDay.
Ogonna said sometimes even students aren’t given early dates for interviews, despite their Form I-20, which proves a person is legally enrolled in a study program in the United States.
She said the situation had prompted more students to apply for admission to the UK and other countries, saying the long wait for US visa interviews was affecting travel to the country.
The travel agent said the situation could have led to the suspension of Delta Air Lines nonstop direct service between New York-John F. Kennedy International Airport and Lagos three weeks ago.
Delta said customers affected by its suspended New York-JFK-Lagos service would be relocated to Delta-operated flights or services operated by its joint venture partners.
BusinessDay findings show that Nigeria is not the only country affected by development, but has a longer wait time for interview dates. In Brazil, the waiting period is 760 days, in Guyana it is 900 days.
The US State Department blamed the pandemic for the backlogs.
David Bier, associate director of immigration policy at the Libertarian Cato Institute, said the two-year pandemic-induced lockdown of US consulates around the world has halted visa services.
“They just stopped working during COVID. And that produced what we’re seeing now, which is over a year of waits, massive backlogs, and all the problems associated with that,” he told VOA.
While wait times vary widely between consulates, Bier said, “it’s the worst since 9/11.”
The State Department’s latest data from its consulates shows that the wait for some visa interviews can typically be longer than a year, and the majority of consulates now take more than six months to schedule an interview for a tourist or traveler. business.
In a February 2022 letter to the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, members of the US Chamber Travel Coalition urged the Biden administration to relax domestic and international travel requirements and coordinate with other countries to facilitate travel between countries.
The coalition is made up of Airlines for America, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the American Chamber of Commerce and the US Travel Association. He wrote that while other sectors of the economy reached a full recovery, business travel spending was around 50% below 2019 levels and international travel spending was down 78% compared to 2019.
“Imagine that you have just become pregnant and you would like your mother to come and take care of the baby, if your mother starts applying for a visa today, this baby will be over a year old by the time your mother is interviewed” , a travel agent said.
Some applicants said they applied for admission to various institutions in the United States earlier this year, after which they were admitted and received the I-20 form, which allowed them to schedule an interview.
They said, however, that it was very difficult to get early interview dates after paying the necessary fees required by the US consulate.
“I’m supposed to go back to school the first week of September, but my interview date is almost at the end of October. That means I would have missed school activities for over a month and would have to catch up when I resume,” a candidate who identified himself as Chisom told BusinessDay.
Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), said the US Embassy had not opened since COVID-19.
She said: ‘They really haven’t opened and that’s why people can’t get appointment dates until 2025. They haven’t started visa processes but they’ve only opened for students, doctors and emergencies. I had a meeting with the Consular when she came for the launch of the United Airlines takeover in Nigeria. I told him that by the end of this year all Nigerian visas would have expired and people could no longer travel.
“They said they were working on something and shortly after they took over the ‘Drop Box’ and said that if people’s visas expire within two years they will be eligible for ‘DropBox’. means that, for example, people whose visas expire between 2019 and 2022 can apply for a DropBox,” Akporiaye said.
She suggested that those whose visas expired more than two years ago should wait for interview dates. “People are seeing date dates through 2025 because they are hoping that by then they will have started full operations. When they chose the Drop Box option, a lot of people renewed their visas,” she added.
The president of NANTA said that some students did not get US visas because they did not submit the correct documents.
She said, “Form I-20 allows students to get dates and they use the interview option for them and their interview dates are still available. This is the I-20 number that the system recognizes.
“For emergency cases, the U.S. Consulate will book any available day and send a request to applicants to provide all documents proving the case is an emergency. It is now the responsibility of the U.S. Consulate to process cases like emergencies or not.If they check and find it is not an emergency, they may not attend to the person.
According to Akporiaye, those traveling for tourism, family visits and businesses whose visas expired after two years or those applying for the first time should request interview dates and wait until 2025 for their interviews.
When contacted, a spokesperson for the US Mission in Nigeria told BusinessDay that the State Department remains committed to facilitating legitimate travel to the United States for immigrant and non-immigrant travelers.
According to the spokesperson, the US Embassy in Abuja and the US Consulate in Lagos currently provide the full range of consular services, including processing all categories of non-immigrant visas.
He said: “To meet the demand for visas in Nigeria despite ongoing challenges resulting from COVID-related closures and restrictions, the U.S. Mission has put in place a number of initiatives, including the processing of visas from non- immigrant without interview for those who are eligible.
“Over the past few months, the Consular Sections in Abuja and Lagos have processed over 95,000 non-immigrant visas. Demand continues to exceed appointment availability; however, and it likely will for the foreseeable future.
The spokesperson said applicants with an urgent need to travel should book any appointment available on ustraveldocs.com and follow instructions for requesting an expedited appointment.
He said that because consular sections must prioritize services for U.S. citizens, immigrant visas, and work and student visas, only the most urgent tourist and business visa cases can be accelerated.
“We remain committed to reducing these wait times as quickly and safely as possible, recognizing that work and tourist visas play a critical role in the U.S. economy. Regular updates on estimated wait times for nonimmigrant visas are available on travel.state.gov,” he said.