Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Possible Future Changes in U.S. Visa Processing

If you had just one chance to gaze into a crystal ball, you probably wouldn’t use the opportunity to learn about the future of U.S. visa processing in China. So you’ll have to settle with glimmers of the future from a recently published U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Border Security: State Department Is Taking Steps to Meet Projected Surge in Demand for Visas and Passports in Mexico (July 2008).

As background, U.S. consular facilities in China are facing pressure to adjudicate a rapidly-increasing number of visa applications without expending significant additional resources. On top of that, believing that wait times for nonimmigrant visa (NIV) interviews were excessive, in February 2007, the State Department announced a worldwide goal of interviewing NIV applicants within 30 days.

Recent State Department initiatives in Mexico to meet this challenge may offer hints about changes that are coming in China:

  • Adding temporary interview windows: Consular officers in Mexico are expected to conduct 20 NIV interviews per hour. Assuming windows are open 200 days a year, 20 interviews per hour for 8 hours wouild result in 32,000 interviews per window, per year. To meet surging visa demand, consular posts are constructing additional temporary windows.
  • Hiring temporary adjudicating officers with renewable 1-year contracts: These officers will receive the same 6-week Basic Consular Course at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, as permanent Foreign Service officers. Officials anticipate the same level of productivity and supervision requirements as they would expect from new career Foreign Service officers.
  • Outsourcing: A pilot program in Mexico outsources to private contractors a portion of the NIV application process. This includes electronically capturing applicants’ biometric data (photo and fingerprints) as well as scanning visa application forms at off-site facilities. This is part of an effort by the State Department to establish a new service delivery model for processing NIVs in response to long-term growth in demand worldwide. State envisions expanding this model to other high-demand posts worldwide to help expand the capacity of consular operations without incurring the costs of building additional facilities. (This topic was also addressed by the State Department in DOS Replies to AILA Liaison Questions: AILA-DOS Liaison Meeting Nov. 5, 2008 at 4, AILA Infonet Doc. # 09022660.)

Any guesses as to which of these strategies will be implemented in China?

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