The U.S. State Department is adding foreign service officers to help reduce visa backlogs around the world but anticipates delays will continue in the months ahead, according to information recently posted to the State Department website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the number of visas the State Department can process and the services that are available at embassies and consulates. According to recent data, more than 439,000 eligible immigrant visa applicants still need to have interviews scheduled after January 2022 appointments were filled.

In a Q&A with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said it was taking steps to address the problem. The Bureau said:

  • The State Department is planning to hire foreign service officers and other personnel  “above attrition” in the 2022 fiscal year. Many posts will not see any additional staff until the second half of FY 2022 or FY 2023, however.
  • Increased hiring “will not have an immediate effect on reducing current visa wait times” in part because of local COVID-19 conditions and restrictions. Some consular posts have reintroduced routine visa services; others are slowly reintroducing services “in an abundance of caution and out of concern for the health of both consular staff and clientele.”
  • The rescission in November of guidance for the prioritization of consular services has allowed posts to “balance consular services based on local conditions, resources, and priorities.” Still, many posts continue to face COVID-related occupancy restrictions and staffing challenges.

Additional Information: In the Q&A, the Bureau also answered questions from AILA on the U.S.’s vaccine and testing requirements for international travel, the Visa Bulletin and immigration issues related to the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, among other topics. The full Q&A is available here.

BAL Analysis: While the State Department is working to address visa backlogs, many embassies and consulates continue to operate at a reduced capacity because of COVID-19. Continued visa processing delays should be expected. BAL will continue to monitor efforts to address processing delays and will provide more information as it becomes available. Employers and employees should continue to consult their BAL professional before planning international travel.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact

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