Biden administration tackles backlog of immigrant visas

Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services Julie M. Stuff, on Monday, gave an update on the status of immigrant visa processing at U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas. She stated that the Department was prioritizing the processing of immigrant visas at every “post”, or visa processing location. This decision to focus on immigrant visas was taken in part due to the large backlog in immigrant visas that has accumulated during the pandemic period.

To give an idea of the unusual circumstances the Department faces when processing visas, Ms. Stuff said: “In January 2020, there were about 75,000 immigrant visa cases pending at the national visa center ready for interviews. Thirteen months later in February 2021, there were 473,000.” In general, the Department issues about 10 million visas a year; half a million are typically immigrant visas.

She added that “this number doesn’t include the entirety of the queue” because it doesn’t include people who are at other stages of the visa application whether gathering documents or petitioning for a visa. 

Safety precautions and other restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic have reduced staff and the amount of applicants allowed in the visa-processing center at a time. The fact that visa interviews, for the most part, must be conducted in-person and applicants need to have their fingerprints taken have added to restrictions that reduced capacity. The Department must also adhere to the host government’s regulations that may restrict its operations.

Speaking to changes the Biden administration has made regarding visa issuance, Ms. Stuff declared, “There are now no general restrictions remaining on issuing immigrant visas.”

Last Wednesday, President Biden issued a Proclamation revoking the April 2020 Proclamation 10014 that had suspended people perceived to  “Present a risk to the United States Labor Market” from entering the U.S. during the pandemic and recovery periods.

There are still restrictions on immigrant visa issuance and travel to the U.S. as a result of past proclamations that remain in place or more recent proclamations the Biden administration has issued. After issuing an Executive Order on January 21 that directed public health and homeland security administrators to investigate and propose regulations to protect the U.S. from new Covid-19 variants, President Biden on January 24 issued another proclamation (10143) to continue suspended entry of non- U.S. citizens from countries –  China, Iran, Brazil, U.K., Ireland, South Africa, and the 26 countries of the Schengen area – in which they had been present “during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry

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