As many countries have lifted entry restrictions, the number of travellers is increasing. Travel organisations, airlines and public bodies are barely able to meet the high demand for foreign travel because of the limited number of employees due to COVID-19. The United States is particularly struggling with processing certain visa applications. This is not the case when applying for an ESTA.
The average time to wait for an interview for the B-1 business visa and the B-2 tourist visa for people that are applying for these visas for the first time exceeds one year. Before the pandemic, the average waiting time for an interview was 17 days. In early August 2022, at the embassy in Bogotá, there was even a waiting time of more than two years. There was also a longer than normal waiting time for student visa applications, but they have since dropped again. Only in Spain are student visa application wait times still longer. In Madrid, students have to wait, on average, 121 days.
Geoff Freeman, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, has said that long waiting times are a signal to travellers that the USA is not accessible. Jon Baselice, Vice President of Immigration Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stated that the delays send a signal to tourists and potential trade partners that the US is not accessible for tourism or business.
Because of the waiting times, people no longer want to apply for a visa, resulting in the US market no longer being compatible and millions of potential investors choosing to go to other countries. The loss of this many investors can cause the United States to miss out on up to five million dollars in 2023. In February 2022, the U.S. Chamber Travel Coalition sent a letter to the White House, demanding President Biden to relax the travel requirements. This letter also contained the demand to cooperate with other countries to simplify travel between countries.
Reducing waiting times
The waiting times differ in each country because they depend on local travel restrictions and the number of applicants. The U.S. Secretary of State is working hard to employ new employees so that all embassies can resume their visa services. The secretary acknowledges the importance of international travel and the problems the backlog causes.
David Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, stated that the current situation concerning the waiting times has not been this bad since 11 September 2001. During Obama’s presidency, waiting times also threatened to get longer, but then the president ordered 80 per cent of all temporary visa applications to be issued within 21 days. However, this government order was revoked by President Trump since then, has not been re-issued. Bier urges President Biden to take action to ensure the situation does not worsen.
No long waiting times for an ESTA application
The backlog in processing visa applications is particularly noticeable in countries that are not part of the ESTA system. This shows how important the ESTA is for the US economy. With this travel authorisation, the United States allows travellers from 40 countries with which it has good political and economic ties, including the United Kingdom, Ireland and many other European countries, to travel to the United States of America without a visa. Travellers from these countries can apply for an ESTA for either tourist or business trips. With an ESTA, they can stay in the USA for up to 90 days. This is a shorter stay than is allowed with a B visa, which allows a stay of up to six months.
The main reason why ESTA processing times are not that long is that the ESTA application can be submitted entirely online. The applicant does not have to visit the US Embassy for an interview with an employee of Customs and Border Protection. As a result, applying for an ESTA is less time-consuming. Furthermore, the costs of an ESTA are therefore significantly lower than the costs of other US visas. In addition, the ESTA has a long validity period of two years.
There is less attention given to the other side of the story as a result of all the news about extraordinarily long wait times for obtaining a US visa. Despite the delays, the number of travellers to the USA has increased by 160.8 % compared to 2021. The number of travellers is not as high as before the COVID-19 pandemic, but this shows that the US tourism sector is recovering rapidly.
In addition, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), despite the decline, the United States is still the largest and most powerful economy in the world regarding tourism. The same report also predicts an increase of 41 % in business trips in 2022 and subsequently an increase of 5.5 % each year in the following years.
ESTA for a trip to the USA
If you plan to travel to the USA for a holiday or a business trip for up to 90 days, in most cases, applying for an ESTA is the right choice. To apply for this travel authorisation, you have to meet a number of requirements. Read the requirements first to make sure you qualify for an ESTA.
Take note: this news article about the ESTA for the USA is more than one year old. It might contain outdated information and advice, and no rights can therefore be derived from this article. Are you going on a trip soon and do you wish to do know what rules currently apply? Read all about the up-to-date information about the ESTA for the USA.