Travel to the US has been seriously curtailed by the new rules banning tourists from Southern African states where the new COVID-19 omicron variant has been identified. However, it will be a rush to the gate for tourist visas when borders do eventually reopen – before the new travel ban, wait times for the earliest appointments were around six months.
The US Consulates General in South Africa are conducting visa interviews and accepting interview waiver applications only for anyone who is exempt from the new travel ban. This includes some immediate relatives of US citizens and legal permanent residents, government workers travelling for reasons linked to the mitigation or containment of COVID-19, air or sea crew and “very limited others” (follow https://za.usembassy.gov/visas/ for updates).
Travel News has also heard about similar delays at US visa centres in other countries, where some travellers have to wait up to a year for a tourist visa application appointment.
Unofficially, a representative of the US Mission in South Africa said they hoped that the situation would improve as the six-month backlog of applications cleared.
A preliminary report on the number of US visas issued globally in 2020 shows a drop of more than 50% from the previous year for the most popular visa – temporary tourist visa category (B-1/B-2). The number of visas issued in 2019 was 5 297 000 and in 2020 it was 2 164 000. (Source: travel.state.gov).
The report highlighted showed that services were extremely limited until July 2021 when international travel restrictions first began to lift. It states: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, posts were instructed to suspend routine visa services and provide only mission critical and emergency services in late March 2020. This had a significant impact on the provision of Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Visa-related services. Posts were only able to resume limited services on a post-by-post basis beginning in July, as local conditions allowed.”