Applying for a US tourist visa is expensive, ‘discouraging visitors’

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  • Tourist visas can be expensive and difficult to obtain.
  • The process may discourage some travelers from visiting the United States
  • Visa policies attempt to balance economic and national security priorities.

It can be difficult for international visitors to get permission to come to the United States

Onyi Apakama knows this first hand. She is a first-generation American born to two Nigerian immigrants, and much of her family still lives overseas.

A complicated and expensive tourist visa application process means his loved ones missed important steps with family here in the US

“It was really a sad thing because she was (my cousin’s) younger sister,” Apakama said. “She couldn’t attend her sister’s wedding.

For Americans, it can be easy to forget how complicated international travel can be based on your passport.

US passport holders can access 186 international destinations without applying for a visa in advance according to the Henley Passport Index, meaning we almost never need to go through the hassle and expense of completing additional paperwork or to go to the embassy of a country to prove ourselves before a trip.

But many visitors to the United States face a much more arduous process.

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According to Esra Calvert, approximately 40% of international visitors to the United States must apply for a visa to enter. Calvert is the principal of Esra Calvert Consulting, which focuses on data in the tourism industry.

“There’s paperwork you have to fill out online and you’re waiting for your appointment time,” she told USA TODAY. “When your appointment time arrives, you go to the embassy for an interview. You need to show proof of finances, what your plans are, very basic information just to prove that you are going on vacation or business meeting.”

In Nigeria, Apakama said, it can also be harder to get a visa appointment if your family doesn’t have good political connections.

These additional hurdles sometimes discourage people from applying for visas, let alone those whose applications are rejected. This means the United States is potentially missing out on a lot of tourist dollars that would otherwise be generated each year.

According to the Department of Commerce, tourism accounted for $1.9 trillion in economic output in 2019.

“There are so many choices for travelers,” Calvert said. “If a traveler has to wait a year” just to get their visa interview, they will go elsewhere for the holidays.

Raoul Bianchi, a political economy reader in the Department of Economic Policy and International Trade at Manchester Metropolitan University, said tourist visa applications disproportionately complicate travel for people from the developing world.

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“The global north/global south divide is very clear,” he said in an interview. “There is a huge disparity between wealthy westernized countries and sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central America, and South Asia.”

The process can be so opaque that experts suggest many visa applicants worry that telling the press about their experiences could hamper their ability to gain approval.

How much does a tourist visa cost to visit the United States?

According to the State Department, it costs $160 per person to apply for a tourist visa. They can be valid for up to 10 years, depending on the nationality of the applicant.

Fees are becoming increasingly prohibitive for some travelers as inflation rises.

“The cost has gone up. And right now with inflation (and) the exchange rate, the Nigerian naira has weakened a lot over the last year or six months,” Apakama said.

When she visited Nigeria in 2019 or 2020, it was around 350 naira to the dollar. Now it is closer to 430 naira to the dollar, meaning his relatives could find themselves paying tens of thousands of naira in visa fees alone for an entire family unit to visit.

In a statement, the State Department said these fees are not refundable or transferable, even if the application is denied.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department on May 27.

“The department’s consular operations are largely funded by service fees. The visa fees charged are generally based on the cost to the department of providing visa services and are determined by periodic studies of the cost of consular services, including including visa services,” a spokesperson said. said. “This means there is no profit to the US government from collecting the fee. Rather, the fee is in place to recoup the cost to the US government of providing the service.”

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Who must obtain a tourist visa to come to the United States?

Visa requirements can change over time, and especially for visitors to the United States, they have become stricter over the past few decades.

“On average, two-thirds of people in the world must obtain a visa before departure. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and more recent terrorist attacks around the world have changed the discourse on immigration and international tourism in Europe. and North America,” Pooneh Torabian, a lecturer in the Department of Tourism at the University of Otago Business School in New Zealand, said in a statement. “Since 9/11, international travel has become more regulated in the name of safety and security, and the international travel of ethnic minority citizens, particularly Arab and Muslim travellers, has been hampered.”

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Bianchi agreed and pointed out that visa policies often reflect a country’s broader geopolitical positions.

For example, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, his administration banned visitors from many Muslim-majority countries, reflecting the president’s immigration priorities. Even since President Joe Biden reversed that policy, however, supporters say little has changed in practice.

“Very often visa policies can be a reflection of bilateral diplomatic relations or a proxy for something else that is going on,” Bianchi said.

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For visa applicants, Apakama said, the restrictions can look like discrimination on a high level.

“Who are the people who we as a country believe are going to contribute to society and those who are not,” she said.

Many candidates also believe there is human arbitrariness in the process.

“My family members think that’s the person interviewing you that day and that’s just their mood,” Apakama said. When the visa interviewer seemed grumpy, her family felt that their applications received more scrutiny and were more likely to be denied.

The United States has visa waiver agreements with 40 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and many European countries. Canadian citizens generally do not need to apply for a tourist visa to visit the United States. Travelers using passports from countries not on the exemption list should generally apply for a tourist visa before coming here.

Even when a visitor has a visa, border guards have the discretion to refuse it at passport control. Apakama said she had relatives who were refused entry after landing in the United States and took flights back to Nigeria.

How long does it take to get a tourist visa for the United States?

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, US embassies and consulates have struggled to keep up with visa applications, and in some places the wait time for an appointment is now over a year.

“It discourages visitors,” Calvert said. “All the hassle travelers have to go through with the visa application process these days, there could be opportunities to reduce the number of visa backlogs.”

The State Department’s Wait Time Calculator estimates that the Mumbai consulate now schedules tourist visa appointments 848 days ahead, although the department says the extreme wait is an outlier.

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“We are reducing wait times for appointments in all visa categories as quickly as possible, worldwide. In fact, visa processing is rebounding faster than expected, after a near complete halt and freeze resources during the pandemic,” a spokesperson said. “The wait time for a routine visa appointment in half of our overseas positions is less than four months, and in some positions it is much shorter than that. Applicants with special needs urgent travel arrangements and can apply outside their own country of origin should seek to do so.”

Will US visas ever be easier to get?

Bianchi, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said visa policies are constantly changing.

“There are tensions and conflicts within governments. They don’t operate as a monolith,” he said. “You will get the tourism industry in alliance with the ministries of tourism, but the ministries of the interior, or in your case the Department of Homeland Security , will be very involved. in favor of tightening visas because their concern is security.

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This push and pull means that making visas more accessible is generally a slow and contentious process. In the meantime, Calvert said, the United States will continue to miss out on potential tourism dollars.

“I’m concerned about the price as a barrier and these visa regulations,” she said. “Travel shouldn’t be so difficult. How can we keep the world open?”

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