A year ago, the State Department had a backlog of 500,000 people waiting on green card (immigrant visa) interviews at U.S. consulates and embassies around the world. Although some of those offices still had long wait times for work visas, most had gotten back to more normal wait times of a few days or weeks. Visitor visas were and continue to be the lowest priority with the longest wait times.

Moving forward to this year, the State Department reported recently that it reduced the immigrant visa backlog by 135,000, and that all but four percent of consulates and embassies were fully functional. The Department further reported that it doubled its hiring of Foreign Service officers to support all consular operations, including visa processing. The visa processing rates are now at 94% of pre-pandemic levels for nonimmigrant visas (short-term work, student, diplomatic, and visitor visas) and 130% for immigrant visas (green cards).

The State Department continues to waive the in-person interview requirement for many visa renewals. The waiver protocol was set to expire December 31, 2022 but has been extended to at least the end of 2023. The Department also has on its radar the possibility of resuming visa renewal processing in the United States, but it remains a lower priority until visa application backlogs have been eliminated.

In perhaps the most surprising part of the report, the State Department now encourages visa applicants to apply at any U.S. consulate or embassy around the world. Previously, such forum shopping for a more convenient or timely interview was met with suspicion and generally discouraged. A cautious reading of this recommendation is to take it with a grain of salt, enjoy it while it lasts, and still proceed with caution.

Visa applicants no doubt will welcome this good news report. The State Department has made significant progress and improvements and is committed to a full recovery from the pandemic. Keep up the good work!