State Department’s visa backlog persists

State Department (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
State Department
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

As we reported last week, a massive worldwide computer bug shut down the State Department’s visa processing for days.  And while the system is up and running at limited capacity, there remains a massive backlog of people overseas waiting for their visas.

Frustration mounted in the immediate aftermath of the breakdown because State was providing such limited information to people in limbo. Families adopting babies abroad were unable to bring them home because the babies’ visas couldn’t be printed, we reported in Sunday’s Washington Post. One Maryland family was delayed in China for an extra four days with their adopted 20-month-old son and daughter, but they did eventually get their visas and returned home Tuesday.

At Thursday’s press briefing, State spokeswoman Marie Harf said they’ve “been prioritizing immigrant visas, including adoption cases. So there is a backlog, but we are prioritizing adoption cases.”

Harf couldn’t quantify the backlog, but said the number of visas being issued has likely been halved. From July 20 to July 28, State issued 180,000 non-immigrant visas worldwide when typically it would issue closer to 370,000, she said.

With the Africa Leaders Summit taking place in Washington next week, Harf said part of the “huge crush” was ensuring all the people attending the summit have their visas.

“It is limited in part by our outdated software and hardware, which we are attempting to work to fix,” she said, about the problem generally.

State’s Consular Affairs section has made efforts to provide more updates via it’s Facebook page, complete with a list of frequently asked questions.

It’s Facebook page is flooded with queries from individuals wondering when their visas will be processed, many who are students beginning school next month. One recent commenter wrote, “I have friends in Czech waiting for visa for his daughter to study in the US and the class is starting on Aug 10th. Can they go to the embassy for status update? Their interview was on July 19th.” Another said, “What about student visas? Classes will begin really soon, and I am already missing orientation waiting for my visa. :(”

On the FAQ list is a question on whether State will reimburse visa applicants “who missed flights/canceled weddings/missed funerals?”

“While it might be of little solace to those who have experienced hardship, we are always very careful to tell travelers NOT to make travel plans until they have a visa in hand. Even when the CCD is operating normally, there may be delays in printing visas,” Consular Affairs answers. “The Department does not have the authority to reimburse applicants for personal travel, nor do we include these costs when calculating our fees. The Department cannot refund visa fees except in the specific circumstances set out in our regulations.”

So, if someone you know is gravely ill … plan ahead?

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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Colby Itkowitz · July 31