End-of-year reflection on the State Department’s visa processing accomplishments in FY23 and what needs to be done next


This season invites us to reflect, express gratitude, and set new goals. Coming out of Thanksgiving weekend, it appears the Department of State (DOS) has done just that. November 28, 2023, DOS shared a press release discussing the agency’s achievements in visa operations in fiscal year 2023. The release demonstrates the impressive numbers achieved by the agency this fiscal year and a roadmap for continued success.

The release provides statistics and achievements related to the agency’s near-record issuance of nonimmigrant visas in several categories from October 2022 to September 2023. Notably, the agency issued more than 10 million nonimmigrant visas. -immigrant, including 8 million business and tourist visas, for a total of six. – an annual high of 600,000 student visas, a record 442,000 temporary/seasonal worker visas, 365,000 airline and shipping crew essential to our country’s supply chain, and 590,000 highly skilled workers and executives, many of whom come from critical industries like technology and healthcare.

AILA commends DOS and its staff for their efforts in achieving these successes. Although this demonstrates the efforts made by the agency to rebound from closures and backlogs created by the COVID-19 pandemicMuch of the success was and continues to be the result of thoughtful policies implemented by agency staff that streamline visa processing without compromising national security.

One such policy concerns maintenance waiver flexibilities. ready to expire on December 31, 2023. bottom of its output, the DOS specifically mentions this policy and its positive impact on visa processing. In 2022, almost half of all temporary visas were issued without an in-person interview. The result is not only streamlined nonimmigrant visa processing, but also increased availability of agency staff to handle other visa-related workloads.

Despite the clearly positive results, the administration still has not announced plans to continue the interview waivers, as it awaits approval from the Department of Homeland Security. On November 17, 2023, AILA and 65 coalition partners sent a letter to DHS and DOS Leaders urged that this policy be extended beyond its December 31 expiration and highlighted the many positive impacts it has had on visa wait times, the U.S. economy and national security . Without the continued use of maintenance waiver authorizations, it is difficult to know whether the excellent progress made by the DOS can be sustained. In addition to maintenance waiver flexibilities, the press release also mentions the agency’s upcoming nonimmigrant visa renewal pilot in the United States as another policy initiative that will have a positive impact on visa processing. AILA recommended for a return to nonimmigrant visa renewals in the United States for several years, and we are pleased to see its implementation.

According to Bloomberg Law, the pilot will begin in early 2024 and be limited to an initial cap of 20,000 H-1B executives. These individuals will be able to renew their nonimmigrant visas from within the United States, reducing uncertainty and allowing the agency to reduce wait times at its consular posts abroad. The agency is preparing a federal notice with all the details which will be published in December 2023. The pilot project, although small, is intended to test the operationality of the program. But its implementation and, hopefully, expansion will result in greater efficiency of the agency’s services.

Finally, while AILA is grateful for these thoughtfully implemented and proposed policies, to truly eliminate delays and backlogs in visa processing, Congress must act. AILA supports bipartisanship Visa Processing Improvement Act introduced by Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Moran (R-KS), which, among other things, permanently codifies interview waiver flexibilities for certain nonimmigrant visa categories, creates a pilot project for remote video interviews and ensures agency accountability and transparency on its efforts. to streamline processes. Additionally, Congress must appropriate funds so that DOS can permanently end its arrears. These reforms would provide the agency with much-needed resources and bandwidth and reduce visa wait times and delays.

As we look forward to a new year, AILA is grateful for the dedication and ingenuity demonstrated by DOS staff to reduce visa wait times and boost the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas . Continued implementation of these proven and potential strategies will ensure the agency is able to sustain 2023 progress and achievements into the new year.

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