As we move into summer, many foreign national employees will be taking trips abroad for vacation, to visit family and possibly to renew their visas while outside of the country.

While we continue to experience a general increase in visa appointments, an exciting improvement after the delays and lack of availability over the last couple of years, there are still many spots where backlogs exist. The backlogs could be due to a shortage of consular staff managing the post, specific types of visas that are being prioritized or the inability of a location to support the number of visa applications they’re receiving.

One of the great services BAL provides is U.S. consular support. Via this service, we offer real time visibility into appointment calendars around the world. There are a lot of variables in how we can help our clients be successful depending on the type of visa and the current backlog in the location where they need to file.

Here are three tips to manage the variables as best as possible and ensure foreign nationals have the best chance of success for their summer travel plans.

Summer Travel Tip #1: Check early, check often

The first tip, and the most important for me, is encouraging applicants to check:

  • The validity/expiration date of their passport,
  • The validity of their current visa and
  • The validity of the underlying status they want to renew with their visa application.

It is difficult to catch up on an applicant’s status if they are in between time frames. Many people forget that the visa has one expiration date, but their underlying status also has an expiration date, and it’s important that both of those are valid. I’ve had many clients who planned summer travel but were only able to get a very limited amount of time because their underlying status hadn’t been extended.

To get the most out of their immigration status, foreign nationals should make sure they have the right documentation ready to extend it. Think about it not just as getting a visa, but how it extends their overall immigration status in the United States.

Summer Travel Tip #2: Secure the appointment before traveling

I always recommend applicants secure their appointment first, then get the travel plans on the calendar. It’s disappointing to an applicant when they have travel plans booked and I can’t get a date for them in that limited window of time, especially when consulates and embassies are seeing hundreds or even thousands of people every single day.

However, if we initiate the process in a timely manner, we will be able to discuss potential travel dates before they’re solidified, our team can identify where a consulate could accommodate the desired travel dates. Or if they are flexible and can move the trip a week or two, they can get an appointment with their preferred consulates due to greater availability.

It is also important to note that it may take longer in the summertime for the overall processing to happen, especially for those traveling to Europe – particularly Paris – with the Olympic and Paralympic games. Services are going to be very limited this summer in Paris, and in-person appointments might not even be available at all except for life and death emergencies. We are also finding that availability for third country national filings throughout Europe continue to be limited for foreign nationals who are not residents in that location.

Considering all the potential obstacles, I can’t emphasize it enough: let’s get the appointment on the calendar, then plan your travel.

Summer Travel Tip #3: Don’t bet on the interview waiver

I won’t have a lot of fans on this one, but my third tip is to not just assume that an interview waiver is going to be the faster option. The State Department highlights the interview waiver process as an advantage, and I think it is an advantage for many people, but it won’t necessarily result in a faster turnaround time for approval.

We normally see the consulate turn the visa around within five to seven business days after an interview, whereas interview waivers can take up to ten to fifteen business days. A lot of it has to do with the immediacy of an interview: the consulate has the foreign national’s passport in hand and will complete the process in the moment. On the other hand, while it’s convenient to mail in the application for the interview waiver, there’s also no telling when the consulate will actually pick it up, adjudicate it and turn it around.

It really comes down to the individual circumstances. If the foreign national plans to be in the country for multiple weeks and qualifies for an interview waiver, it’s a great option. Otherwise, I would recommend moving forward with the interview.

Bonus Summer Travel Tip: Know your ‘why’ to expedite

A question I’ve heard many times is, “what if I can’t get a visa interview?” In that case, there is the option of utilizing what’s commonly referred to as an expedite request. The way you approach these requests is completely unique to each consulate, but it generally involves the applicant asking the U.S. consulate to prioritize them over other visa applicants due to extenuating circumstances.

These extenuating circumstances – the ‘why’ behind the request – are crucial. You need to be able to explain why your case is so important that it needs to be taken care of now. When I’m able to approach the consulate with a solid answer to that question, it gives us a chance to have the request accepted.

I recommend that anyone who finds themselves in this urgent situation first review the appointment calendar and take the first available option, then submit the request. From there we can finalize the ‘why’ and work with the consulate to identify a gap in their schedule.

Happy traveling to everybody.