Summer Time Means Long Appointment Waits at the U.S. Consulates in China

With summer quickly approaching, the U.S. Consulates in China are experiencing longer and longer waits for scheduling nonimmigrant visa appointments.

Here are the earliest B1/B2 (visitor) appointments as of May 18:

Guangzhou: June 13 (26 days)
Chengdu: June 28 (41 days)
Shenyang: June 29 (42 days)
Beijing: July 8 (51 days)
Shanghai: July 15 (58 days)

Here are the earliest F/M/J appointments:

Chengdu: May 23 (5 days)
Shanghai: May 24 (6 days)
Shenyang: May 24 (6 days)
Guangzhou: June 13 (26 days)
Beijing: July 15 (58 days)

Source: (The Consulates don’t publish timing for other visa categories).

By this time in 2010, appointment waits had risen to as long as 100 days. See here. So maybe this year we’re seeing some progress. However, at nearly 60 days, visa waits in Beijing and Shanghai are now as much as double the target of a maximum 30 day wait set by the State Department. The U.S. Consular Mission in China has not yet formulated and implemented a reasonable plan for staffing, facilities, and procedures to meet the growing nonimmigrant visa demand in China. One of the implications is that the U.S. is missing out on huge amounts of tourism income that could be growing our economy.

One more gripe. I’ve blogged before about how it’s bad policy for the Consulates to require payment of the visa application fee (usually 938 RMB/140 USD) at CITIC Bank before scheduling an appointment. That’s a pain if you’re an applicant with a tight travel schedule. If you can’t get an appointment that meets your schedule, your fee won’t be refunded. (It’s not transferable to another person either, although it’s valid for one year).

In the past, the Embassy has defended this policy by saying that you can look at the Embassy’s website to find out the visa waits before you pay the visa application fee. But now the Embassy has basically admitted that’s useless: “Please note that wait times vary hour-by-hour, and can change dramatically from one day to the next and even within the same day. The only authoritative source of wait-time information is the Call Center at the time you book your appointment.”

In sum, you need to pay the nonrefundable application fee before you will find out if you can get a timely appointment. The Embassy’s diplomatic mission will be harmed if too many customers feel like they gambled on the appointment system and lost their money.

Are there ways to mitigate foreseeable problems like those described here? How about making the fee refundable so long as any cancellation is done 48 hours in advance of the appointment? Or how about paying the fee by phone after the operator tells you the next available appointment time?

Now’s the time to reduce appointment waits and fix the Embassy’s appointment procedures.

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