On October 21, 2022, the Department of State (DOS) announced that worldwide visa operations are recovering faster than expected from COVID-19-pandemic-related effects. As a result, the agency has doubled hiring of U.S. Foreign Service personnel and said it expects to reach pre-pandemic processing levels this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic “forced profound reductions in DOS’s visa processing capacity” in two main ways, the agency explained. First, restrictions on travel to the United States, and local restrictions on public places like overseas consular waiting rooms, curbed the ability to see visa applicants. Second, as revenue from the application fees that fund visa processing operations was cut nearly in half, more than 300 overseas consular officer positions went unfilled in 2020 and 2021, further reducing the number of visa applications that could be processed.
DOS said that 96 percent of U.S. embassies and consulates are again interviewing visa applicants. Nonimmigrant visa applications are being processed at 94 percent of pre-pandemic monthly averages, and immigrant visa application processing is at 130 percent. In the past 12 months (through September 30, 2022), DOS processed 8 million nonimmigrant visas, well above its best-case projections. DOS also noted that the agency set records for student and academic exchange visitor visas. Consular sections worldwide adjudicated more student visas in July 2022 than in any other month since 2016, with nearly 180,000 F, M, and academic J visas processed, DOS said. In addition, the agency issued 54,334 diversity visas (DVs) during the DV-2022 program year—the highest number of DVs issued in 25 years, and all available DV numbers were exhausted when that total was combined with the domestic adjustments of status approved by USCIS under the DV program.