The Joe Biden administration has proposed raising the fees on almost all visas for non-immigrants seeking to reach the United States.
While US officials say the move is necessary to better align visa prices with what it costs to provide them, critics worry that if the administration doesn’t address visa wait times, rising costs it could mean even fewer travelers and students coming to the United States.
According to a Federal Register notice, the State Department expects the new prices to take effect in September and will accept comments until February 28 on the proposed increases.
“All of the fee increases are happening at a time when tourism and travel to the United States is already at an all-time low, and the State Department is imposing waits of six months to a year in many places for tourist visas. or business,” David Bier, an immigration policy expert at the Cato Institute , told VOA .
Figures from the Department of State show that the visas with the highest number of applications are those for tourism, business and study.
A nonimmigrant visa allows the holder to travel as a tourist or temporarily live, work, or study in the US under certain conditions. Applications for tourist visas, B1 and B2, and student visas, F, M, J, will increase from 160 dollars to 245 dollars, which is equivalent to an increase of 54%. While the employment-based visas, H, L, O, P, Q and R, range from $190 to $310, which represents an increase of 63%.
“The most important thing is whether the visas are issued promptly. If the administration increases costs, but there is not a great improvement in the State Department’s service, then the result will be many fewer travelers, “added Bier.
US airport traffic has been declining in recent years, counting both domestic and international travelers. According to the Transportation Security Administration, it tested a total of 1.1 million people on January 26. On the same date in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, that number was over 2 million.
Tackling America’s immigration system was one of President Joe Biden ‘s main campaign promises .
On his first day in office, he introduced the US Citizenship Act of 2021, sweeping immigration reform legislation that included an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. , a plan to eliminate the backlog of employment-based visas, and a plan to prevent dependents of work visa holders from aging out of the system, among other changes.
But the legislation has stalled in Congress and is largely considered nearly dead.
“Immigrants have done a lot for America during the pandemic, as they have throughout our history. The country supports immigration reform. Congress should act,” Biden said then.
Immigration experts say that while Biden reversed many of his predecessor’s policies, often described as anti-immigration, a Trump administration executive order that limited legal immigration and the issuance of temporary work visas contributed to immigration times. waits for nonimmigrant visas were longer.
The Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa services at all US embassies and consulates in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. They are reopening under a phased resumption of visa services, but about a quarter are partially or fully closed, according to the Cato Institute.
US consulates around the world are an important component of the immigration system, processing visas “that authorize travel to the United States, but many consulates remain closed and those that are open report record wait times: [more than a year] in dozens of locations,” Bier wrote in a recent analysis.
A State Department official told VOA that US embassies and consulates have information online about operational status and what services are currently offered.
According to Bier, in January, most consulates reported waits of 202 days for a visa appointment for business travelers and tourists, up from 95 days in April 2021. For students and exchange visitors, the wait was approximately 38 days, up from 25 days about a year ago, and 62 days for everyone else, including temporary skilled workers, up from 40 days in April 2021.
Effect on students, workers
A Department of State spokesperson explained that the department’s consular operations are largely funded by service fees and that the proposed fee increase is to ensure that the agency fully recovers the costs of providing these services.
“Visa fees charged by the Department are generally based on the cost of providing visa services and are determined after conducting a study of the cost of such service,” the spokesperson told VOA via email. “Assessment of the actual cost of service combined with demand projections over many years determined the published rates in the proposed rate schedule.”
The fee increase should translate into better service, especially shorter wait times, which is particularly important for students, said Jill Welch, senior policy adviser for the Alliance of Presidents on Higher Education and Immigration.
“We are still evaluating the potential impact of the proposed rule on international student flows to the United States. … It is important that [the Department of State] have adequate resources to process visa applications, particularly for those students and scholars who have tight deadlines to obtain their visas in order to arrive on time for academic term,” Welch said.
International students at US colleges and universities contributed nearly $41 billion to the US economy and supported 458,290 jobs in the 2018-19 academic year, according to a study by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
In the 2020-21 academic year, international students contributed $28.4 billion to the US economy, a decline of nearly 27%, or $10.3 billion, largely due to the pandemic.
But not everyone believes that higher visa costs will have a big impact.
Marcelo Barros, an expert on international student careers in Washington, told VOA that while the fee increase was “unfortunate,” it would not stop people from coming to the US.
“This will not have any significant impact on [student] enrollment or [employment-based visas]. This will not have any significant impact on companies’ desire to hire talent from outside the US,” he said, adding that if travelers, students or highly-skilled workers want to come to the US, they will pay the new rate.