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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

GAO REPORT SLAMS STATE DEPARTMENT FOR SLOW VISA PROCESSING

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The title "Long-term Strategy Needed to Keep Pace with Increasing Demand for Visas" only hints at the conclusion of the report. The report is more than 50 page long, but you can get the gist from its introduction:

According to State, the amount of time that applicants must wait for a visa interview has generally decreased over the last year; however, some applicants continue to face extensive delays. State's data showed that between September 2005 and February 2006, 97 consular posts reported maximum wait times of 30 or more days in at least 1 month, whereas 53 posts reported such waits for the same period 1 year later. However, despite recent improvements, at times during the past year, a number of posts reported long wait times, which could be expected to reoccur during future visa demand surges. In 2007, State announced a goal of providing applicants an interview within 30 days. Although State's data is sufficiently reliable to indicate that wait times continue to be a problem at some posts, GAO identified shortcomings in the way the data is developed that could mask the severity of the problem.

State has implemented steps to reduce wait times at several posts including using temporary duty employees to fill staffing gaps at some posts and repositioning some consular positions to better utilize its current workforce. However, these measures are not permanent or sustainable solutions and may not adequately address the increasing demand for visas worldwide. In addition, State has made improvements to several consular facilities and has identified plans for improvements at several other posts with high workload. Some posts have utilized procedures that enable them to process applications more efficiently. However, not all of these procedures are shared among posts in a systematic way and, therefore, not all posts are aware of them.

State has not determined how it will keep pace with growth in visa demand over the long-term. State contracted for a study of visa demand, in select countries, over a 15-year period beginning in 2005, which projected that visa demand will increase dramatically at several posts (see fig.). However, at some posts, demand has already surpassed the study's projected future demand levels. State has not developed a strategy that considers such factors as available resources and the need for maintaining national security in the visa process, along with its goal that visas are processed in a reasonable amount of time. Given dramatic increases in workload expected at many posts, without such a strategy State will be challenged in achieving its current goal for wait times.

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  1. Gary Chodorow's Avatar
    To me, one of the biggest management challenges that the GAO report points out is that the State Department in Washington, DC, doesn't really know how long wait times are at consular posts.

    Posts use different methods--not one standard--for estimating wait times. Most disturbing, "some posts artificially limit wait times by tightly controlling the availability of future appointment slots--such as by not making appointments available beyond a certain date, which can make appointment scheduling burdensome for the applicant who must continually check for new openings."

    I blogged about this topic: http://lawandborder.com/WordPress .
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