US Visa Processing Times 2022
Applying for a US visa can be a daunting prospect, not least because of the lengthy wait times involved, where immigrant visas providing permanent status might take several years to be approved, and even temporary nonimmigrant visas might take several months.
US visa processing times are subject to change. Processing is affected by caseload and staffing levels and is yet to return to pre-pandemic service levels. The closure of US visa processing centres and and suspension of application processing during the pandemic has resulted in a backlog of applications, with longer waiting times for visa appointments and for decisions on visa applications.
In November 2022, the US State Department published a service update, acknowledging the ongoing delays in processing and outlining measures being taken to resume normal operations: “We have doubled our hiring of U.S. Foreign Service personnel to do this important work, visa processing is rebounding faster than projected, and in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 we expect to reach pre‑pandemic visa processing levels… As of November 2022, the median worldwide wait time for a tourist visa (B1/B2) interview appointment is about two months, and applicants with urgent travel needs who meet certain criteria can apply for an emergency appointment, usually available within days.”
Applicants are recommended to take advice to determine the estimated processing times for their classification of visa at the time they are making their application.
As a guide, we have outlined general US visa processing times for different classifications of visa, including both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, as well as premium processing, how wait times can vary between different countries and what factors can contribute to any delays.
US visa processing times for nonimmigrant visas
Nonimmigrant visas are for non-US nationals who wish to travel to the United States on a temporary basis. For those who are not eligible for visa-free travel, there are visas available for both business and pleasure. There are also a whole host of nonimmigrant visas available for various different purposes, including undertaking study or gainful employment.
The application process for US work visas, whether for non-US nationals looking to come to the United States to work on a self-employed basis or those entering into sponsored employment, the application process is far more complex and protracted, adding to overall processing times.
Applicants and employers involved in planning a relocation to the US should make a particular effort to determine the required US work start date in line with business needs and plan early.
If you intend to come to the United States to engage in substantial trade under the E-1 treaty trader visa, or to develop and direct the operations of a US enterprise in which you have invested a substantial amount of capital under the E-2 visa treaty investor visa, the business will first need to be registered with the E-Visa Unit. This is no easy task, where a number of detailed documents will need to be submitted electronically, following which the current review time is estimated to be 45 days. Provided no additional documentation is required to complete the review, only then will you be advised of appointment availability.
For petition-based employment visas — such as the H-1B speciality occupation visa or the L-1 intracompany transfer visa — the process is even more complicated and lengthy. This is because before you can even submit your application and schedule a consular appointment, your US sponsor must first file an employment-based petition on your behalf with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Only once the petition has been approved by USCIS, will you be able to attend an interview appointment, for which the current wait time is 90 calendar days for the UK Embassy in London. These times
Unless you are being transferred to the US to work for an affiliated office of your overseas employer under an L-1 visa, and the business has previously filed a blanket petition with USCIS, an individual petition can take anything between several weeks to several months to be approved. This will very much depend on which of the five USCIS service centres or the numerous USCIS field offices will be processing your case and the amount of their backlog.
However, as with student visas, consular officers have the discretion to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain temporary employment nonimmigrant visa applicants who have a USCIS-approved petition, including the H-1B and individual petition-based L-1 visas.
US visitor visas fall into two categories: the B-1 and B-2 visa. The B-1 visa is for those of you looking to come to the US in the short-term to undertake unpaid business-related activities, such as attending seminars and meetings, while the B-2 visa is for those looking to visit the US for the purposes of tourism, such as taking a holiday or visiting friends and family.
To apply for either a B-1 or B-2 visa, or even a dual purpose visa, you will need to submit an online application and schedule a visa appointment at your local US Embassy or Consulate. You will be required to attend this appointment with a number of supporting documents. You will also be interviewed by a consular officer as to the purpose of your trip, what funds you have available to cover your expenses and your plans to return home.
The interview itself may last only a matter of minutes, although consular staff will first need to collect, data-enter and review your application. You will also be required to provide your biometric information and submit your documentation in support. In most cases, a visa decision will be made at the conclusion of your interview, where you will be told if your application has been approved or denied, although further processing may be required.
If your application for a visitor visa is approved, the average processing time, for example, when applying out of the UK Embassy in London, is just 5 working days. There will also be a 2-3 day wait for your passport, containing your visitor visa, to be returned to you via courier. However, despite the fact that the appointment itself will be relatively quick, the wait time is often several weeks, if not months, when looking to schedule a visa appointment. The current estimated interview appointment wait time for visitor visas in London is 195 days.
If you are aged under 14 or over 80, you may be eligible to submit your visa application by courier without attending an interview under the ‘Interview Waiver Program’. In these instances, taking the UK Embassy in London as an example, visa processing will take approximately 21 workdays from the date on which your application is received by the Embassy, with a further 2-3 working days for the return of your passport.
As with visitor visas, study visas again fall into two categories: the F-1 visa for academic courses and the M-1 visa for vocational courses. The F-1 visa can be used to attend a US university or other academic institution, including a primary or secondary school, or to undertake a language training program. In contrast, the M-1 visa can be used to pursue a course of study which is not principally academic at an established vocational or other recognised nonacademic institution, such as a post-secondary vocational or business school.
The application process broadly mirrors that required for a US visitor visa, although the wait times for an appointment in London are currently just 14 calendar days. In addition, and through to the end of 2022, consular officers have the discretion to waive the in-person interview requirement for student applicants. Depending on your nationality, and provided you are applying from your country of nationality or residence, this means that you may not need to schedule a visa appointment, but rather your application will be decided on paper.
US visa processing times for immigrant visas
The US visa processing times for immigrant visas can vary dramatically, from family-sponsored visas to employment-based visas, also known as green cards. The overall length of the processing time will depend on two primary factors: your immigrant application type and the official bodies designated to dealing with your application.
If you are submitting an overseas application for permanent status through consular processing, your case will be dealt with by both USCIS and the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC serves a clerical function in pre-processing immigrant visa applications, preparing these applications for consular officers to review and adjudicate upon.
USCIS will handle the initial processing of the case, before handing over the file to the NVC having approved your green card petition. Once you submit your forms, fees and supporting documents to the NVC, they will review your case to ensure that you have provided all the necessary documentation required to schedule the immigrant visa interview. The NVC will then schedule you an appointment and send everything to the Embassy or Consulate that will make the final decision on your visa. Prior to attending this interview, regardless of your age, you will need to undergo a medical examination by an authorised panel physician.
It can take USCIS several months to process a green card petition. It can then take 1-2 months for an immigrant visa application to be transferred from USCIS to the NVC, with an additional 2-3 months for NVC to deal with its portion, although timelines can vary by case. Additionally, even if USCIS approves your petition, you may not immediately get an immigrant visa number. This is because there is a limit on the number of immigrant visas available each year in certain categories, where the availability of numbers may depend on the date that your petition was filed and the number of other applicants waiting for the same visa.
The date that your petition was filed is called your priority date. The Department of State’s Visa Bulletin posts priority dates on a monthly basis, showing when a visa is available for your petition. This means that if your priority date is not current, there will be an additional wait time. Immediate relatives, such as spouses of US citizens, do not have yearly limits, while numerical limitations will apply to family preference and employment immigrant categories. In some cases, it could take several years before you will be eligible to proceed.
Finally, after much patience and time, and having ultimately attended a 2-3 hour interview, you will usually need to wait a further 2-3 weeks for your green card to be processed.
US visa processing times with premium processing
In some cases, premium processing may be available with USCIS for a fee, for example, for immigrant and nonimmigrant employment petitions. Under this service, USCIS provides a guarantee that some adjudicative action will be taken on the case within either 15 or 45 calendar days, although this does not necessarily guarantee that the petition will be approved.
When it comes to visa interview appointments, while you can request an expedited appointment, there is no priority service available. An expedited appointment will only be granted at the discretion of the Embassy or Consulate if there is an unforeseen and urgent situation, such as a funeral, medical emergency or school start date, although the circumstances considered for expedited appointments may vary from country to country.
Do US visa processing times vary between different countries?
The US visa processing times can hugely vary, depending on the country that you apply from, and the Embassy or Consulate wait times for that location. For example, the current appointment wait times for visitor visas in London is 195 calendar days, while for Paris this is 528 days. Similarly, the wait time for a student visa in the UK is just 14 calendar days, but for Paris 50 days, and 90 days versus 231 days respectively for most other nonimmigrant visas.
Prior to submitting a visa application, either immigrant or nonimmigrant, you should thoroughly research the overall US visa processing times involved, including checking with your local Embassy or Consulate as to current interview appointment wait times. However, these times are only estimates, where you will not be given any guarantee as to visa processing times in advance. The estimated wait time to receive an appointment can also change weekly, based on the incoming workload and staffing levels at any given time.
What factors can delay US visa processing times?
There are various factors that can delay US visa processing times, from errors in applications that need to be rectified to official requests for further documentation. In a number of cases, applications will also require further administrative processing after interview by a consular officer, so it is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your intended departure date and not to make any non-refundable travel plans until your visa has been issued.
However, by carefully completing your visa application, ideally with the help of an immigration specialist, and by providing all necessary documentation, this can help to keep wait times to a minimum. The process to obtain a US visa can be both complex and drawn out, but with expert help you could be booking your plane ticket to the US sooner than you think.
NNU Immigration are dedicated US immigration attorneys based in London. We provide expert guidance on all types of US visa and nationality applications. For advice and support with your application, contact us.
US visa processing times FAQs
How long does it take for a US visa to be approved?
The length of time that it can take for a US visa to be approved will depend on the classification of visa sought, where nonimmigrant visas might take several weeks or even months, while immigrant visas can take several years.
Is the US embassy open for visas?
Following worldwide closures and service suspensions during the pandemic, the majority of US Embassies and Consulates are now open for interview appointments and to process visa applications.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.