Applying for a U.S. visa can be a scary proposition because of the significant wait times involved. Immigrant visas granting permanent status can take years to be accepted, and even temporary non-immigrant visas might take months.

The U.S. visa processing times are subject to weekly adjustment. Caseload and staffing levels affect processing, which has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Applicants are advised to seek guidance to identify the projected processing times for their visa classification at the time of application. The usual U.S. visa processing periods for different types of visas, including immigrant and non-immigrant visas, as well as premium processing and, how wait times can vary between nations, and what factors lead to delays are shown below.

U.S. visa processing times for non-immigrant visas

Non-immigrant visas are for foreign nationals who seek to travel temporarily to the United States. For those who are not qualified for visa-free travel, both business and tourist visas are available. There are also a multitude of non-immigrant visas available for various objectives, including employment and education.

Visitor Visas

B-1 and B-2 visas are the two types of U.S. visitor visas. The B-1 visa is for people who wish to visit the United States temporarily for unpaid business-related activities. In contrast, the B-2 visa is for those who wish to travel for tourism, such as enjoying a vacation or visiting family and friends.

To apply for a B-1, B-2, or dual-purpose visa, you must complete an online application and schedule an appointment with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your area, and you will be required to bring supporting documents. A consular officer will ask you about the reasons for your travel, your financial situation and confirmation of your plans to return to your home country.

Consular personnel must first collect, enter, and consider your application. Your biometric information and supporting documentation will be collected, and a visa decision can be made after your interview, but more processing may be necessary.

If your application for a visa is approved, the average processing time can be five working days. Your passport with your visitor visa inside will be returned to you by courier shortly after. Although the visit will be very brief, the wait time to arrange a visa appointment is frequently several weeks, if not months. The expected wait time for visitor visa interview appointments in London is 195 days.

Under the ‘Interview Waiver Program,’ if you are 14 or younger or 80 or older, you may not have to attend for an interview.

Work Visas

The application process for U.S. work visas, whether for non-US nationals seeking to travel to the United States to work independently or for those entering sponsored employment, is significantly more difficult and time-consuming, increasing overall processing timeframes.

Applicants and businesses planning a relocation to the United States should make a special effort to ascertain the required U.S. work start date in accordance with business requirements and plan ahead.

If your intention to come to the United States is to engage in trade under the E-1 visa treaty trader visa or to establish and direct the operations of a U.S. enterprise where you have invested substantial capital under the E-2 visa treaty investor visa. In that case, the E-Visa Unit must first be notified. Several specific documents must be filed electronically, followed by an anticipated 45-day review period. Only if no extra paperwork is necessary to complete the review will you be notified of available appointments.

The petition-based employment visa process is more complex and time-consuming, such as the H-1B visa for specialty occupations and the L-1 visa for intracompany transfers. Before you may even submit an application and schedule a consular appointment, your U.S. sponsor must file an employment-based petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on your behalf (USCIS).

Once USCIS has granted the petition, you can attend an interview appointment, for which the current wait time at the British Embassy in London is 90 calendar days.

Unless you are being moved to the United States to work for an affiliated office of your overseas company on an L-1 visa and your employer has previously filed a blanket petition with USCIS, it can take anywhere from several weeks to several months for an individual petition to be approved. This will depend greatly on which of the five USCIS service centres or the several USCIS field offices will be handling your case and their respective backlogs.

As with student visas, consular officials can waive the in-person interview requirement for some temporary work non-immigrant visa applicants with a USCIS-approved petition, such as H-1B and L-1 visas based on individual petitions.

Study Visas

As with visiting visas, there are two types of study visas: F-1 visas for academic courses and M-1 visas for vocational courses. The F-1 visa may be used to enrol in a university or other academic institution in the United States, including a primary or secondary school, or to participate in a language training program. In contrast, the M-1 visa may be utilized to pursue non-academic education at an accepted vocational or other established non-academic institution, such as a postsecondary vocational or business school.

The application process closely resembles that necessary for a U.S. tourist visa, although the current waiting period for an appointment in London is only 14 calendar days. Additionally, through the end of 2022, consular officials can forgo the necessity for an in-person interview for student applicants. This means that depending on your nationality and assuming you are applying from your country of nationality or residency; you may not need to schedule a visa appointment, as your application will be processed on paper.

Visa processing timeframes for immigrant visas in the United States

The processing times for family-sponsored and employment-based visas, often called green cards, can vary significantly. The entire processing time will depend on two key factors:

  • The nature of your immigrant application
  • The official organizations appointed to handle it

If you submit an application abroad for permanent status through consular processing, USCIS and the National Visa Center will handle your case (NVC). Preparing immigrant visa applications for consular officers to assess and adjudicate is a clerical responsibility of the NVC.

After approving your petition for a green card, USCIS will handle the initial processing of your case before transferring it to the NVC. Once you have submitted your paperwork, fees, and supporting papers to the NVC, they will evaluate your case to confirm that you have submitted all of the essential material to arrange the immigrant visa interview. The NVC will then schedule an appointment for you and provide your documents to the Embassy or Consulate, which will determine the final visa decision. Before this interview, regardless of your age, you will be required to have a medical examination by a panel physician with the proper credentials.

The USCIS can take many months to process a petition for a green card. Case-by-case, the transfer of an immigrant visa application from USCIS to the NVC can take 1-2 months and an additional 2-3 months for the NVC to process its portion. In addition, even if the USCIS approves your petition, you may not immediately receive an immigrant visa number. The reason for this is that there is a yearly cap on the number of immigrant visas available for specific categories, and the availability of visas may depend on the date your petition was submitted and the number of other applicants awaiting the same visa.

The day your petition was submitted is referred to as your priority date. Visa Bulletin of the Department of State provides monthly priority dates indicating when a visa is available for your petition. This implies that you will have to wait longer if your priority date is not current. Immediate relatives, such as spouses of U.S. citizens, are not subject to annual limits, although family preference and employment immigration categories are. In certain instances, it may take several years before you are permitted to proceed.

After considerable patience and time and attending a 2-3 hour interview, you will often need to wait an additional 2-3 weeks to process your green card.

Visa processing times for the United States vary by country

Before submitting an immigrant or non-immigrant visa application, you should investigate the overall U.S. visa processing times, including checking with your local Embassy or Consulate for current interview appointment wait times. However, these durations are estimates, and you will not be provided with a guarantee regarding visa processing times in advance. The wait time for an appointment can vary weekly based on the incoming volume of work and the current staffing levels.

What reasons can cause a delay in receiving a visa decision?

There are several variables that can lengthen the processing period for a U.S. visa, ranging from mistakes in applications that must be corrected to official requests for additional evidence. After an interview with a consular officer, some visa applications will require additional administrative processing, so it is vital to apply for your visa well in advance of your intended departure date and refrain from making non-refundable travel arrangements until you have received your visa.

You can reduce wait times by carefully completing your visa application and submitting all required papers.

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