What’s the Latest on Visa Wait Times?

April 30, 2024

Tommy Goodwin

Tommy Goodwin is Vice President for the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA), an association dedicated to the advancement of the business events industry. He leads ECA’s advocacy and member engagement work on behalf of the interconnected ecosystem of exhibitors, show and event organizers, suppliers, venues and destinations that comprise the global business events landscape.

While post-COVID international travel to the U.S. reopened in late 2021, trade show, conference and corporate meeting organizers across the country have not been able to bring all their international exhibitors and attendees to their events in the U.S.

Why? Persistent visa processing delays in many key markets around the world.

Here’s an example: If a would-be exhibitor or attendee from Mexico City applied for a visitor visa for the first time at the local U.S. embassy today, they would have to wait 878 days for an interview with a consular officer.

That’s not 878 days to get a visa, just an interview as part of the visa application process!

The story is similar for visa applicants in Bogota (685 days), Istanbul (553 days), Mumbai (494 days) and Abu Dhabi (458 days).

Since international exhibitors and attendees need to start making financial outlays up to one year in advance of coming to events in the U.S., these long wait times mean that the U.S. is still closed for business to visitors from many countries.

It’s not all bad news, however. Average visitor visa interview wait times in Brazil are down more than 85 percent over the last year, and wait times remain stable in China. And there’s more help on the way.

In March, Congress provided the U.S. State Department with $50 million in extra funding to help reduce visa wait times and passport backlogs. 

As Hervé Sedky, Emerald Holding Inc. president and CEO and chair of the ECA board of directors, said at the time: "Securing this funding marks an important step in reopening our doors and bringing all of our international stakeholders back to business events in the U.S., which play a vital role in driving domestic economic growth, fostering job creation and empowering U.S. small businesses every day.”

While this advocacy win was good news for the industry, there is still more to be done for the State Department to meet its stated goal of having more than 90 percent of our overseas posts to have visitor visa interview wait times under 90 days in 2024.

That’s why ECA is still working on Capitol Hill to advance legislation that would help further reduce wait times while helping to ensure that such delays never happen again.

Specifically, ECA supports three bipartisan bills that would increase flexibility, transparency, and accountability when it comes to visitor visa processing. They are:

·      S.2632: Visa Processing Improvement Act

·      H.R.5127: Visitor Visa Wait Time Reduction Act

·      H.R.7263: VISITOR Act

These bills will be front and center during ECA Legislative Action Day, which takes place in Washington, DC on Thursday, May 30. 

This annual event brings industry leaders and advocates from across our industry to Capitol Hill to meet with policymakers about important issues that impact the business events ecosystem, including visitor visa interview wait times.

To find out how you can be part of ECA Legislative Action Day and advocate for further bringing visa wait times down, click here.



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