Although the travel ban order has been halted by the courts, the new administration has signaled “increased scrutiny” on visa issuance to the US consulates. Its effects are being reflected in the processing of visas at US consulates.
Data released by the government shows that the United States issued about 40 percent fewer temporary visas in March of 2017 to citizens of the seven Muslim-majority nations affected by the bans – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – than it did on average in March of 2016.
Consulates are erring on the side of not approving a visa if there is missing information or discrepancies in the filing or if the applicant is not well prepared for the interview. Because of the uncertainty, there also appears to be fewer applicants for US visas at these consulates.
The executive order also eliminated the ability of some individuals to apply for their visas at a US consulate without an in-person interview.
Previously, some individuals – due to their age or the fact that they were repeat applicants for the same visa – could mail in their passports to the US consulate or use a “drop-box” system when applying for a visa. This time-saving interview waiver program (IWP) has been suspended. This suspension is increasing the workload at the consulates and the wait times for visa appointments.
On a positive note, the data also shows that the total of US non-immigrant visas issued worldwide was up by about 5 percent in March compared to the 2016 monthly average.
But visa issuance is not a guarantee of US admission. At the US ports of entry on arrival, our clients are telling us that they are being subject to more questioning. Particularly, those travelers entering as a business visitor (B-1/B-2) or under the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) on a frequent basis.
To facilitate your travel, plan to be thorough, prepared, and proactive in this process.