15 Apr The visa processing backlog under President Biden
By Atty. Chris Caday Lozano
President Joe Biden has moved to reverse many of his predecessor’s anti-immigration policies, but the consequences of those restrictive measures linger and have contributed to a massive backlog of nearly 2.6 million visa applications.
The backlog includes nearly half a million applicants who are “documentarily qualified” and ready for interviews, according to a recent legal filing by the State Department. Backlogs in some immigrant-visa categories are 50 or even 100 times higher than they were four years ago, at the start of the Trump administration.
Some of the backlogs are due to restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But some also spring from pre-pandemic Trump policies or actions that the Biden administration hasn’t unwound.
The Biden administration is still reviewing or hasn’t fully reversed some measures that slow or block processing, such as heightened background checks and questionable terrorism designations.
The good news is that the State Department said that in places that are subject to regional pandemic travel restrictions, it will now let people seeking immigrant and fiancee visas go ahead and apply.
To understand the challenges, consider the visa process. In March 2020, citing the Covid-19 pandemic, the State Department suspended routine visa services at embassies and consulates around the world. The next month, then-President Trump issued and twice extended a proclamation suspending the entry of most immigrants who didn’t already have valid visas until March 31, 2021. For security reasons, “you can’t adjudicate visas or passports from home,” said Michele Thoren Bond, a former State Department assistant secretary for consular affairs. “Anything passport, anything visa-related, you have to be in the office to do it; and to initiate visa cases you have to bring the applicants into the embassy for interviews, too. Even if you reopen, you can’t let them come in the numbers that would have been normal, pre-Covid.”
A look at family-preference visas, which are issued to people seeking to join a relative already in the US, show how hard the pandemic restrictions hit a system already slowed by other Trump-administration moves.
In February 2017, just after Trump took office, there was a backlog of 2,312 family-preference visa applications, according to Rebecca Austin, assistant director of the National Visa Center at the State Department. Each of the next three years, that backlog more than doubled and doubled again, reaching 26,737 by Feb. 8, 2020. Then, due to the pandemic closures, by February 8 of this year, the backlog leaped to nearly 285,000, she said in a declaration to a federal court in California.
In a written response to queries from CNN, the State Department said that “embassies and consulates are working to resume routine visa services on a location-by-location basis as expeditiously as possible in a safe manner,” but that “We do not expect to be able to safely return to pre-pandemic workload levels until mid-2021 at the earliest.” Officials said health and safety measures would force them to “prioritize the most urgent and mission-critical cases” while scheduling fewer interviews than was normal before the pandemic.
Because the Bureau of Consular Affairs relies mostly on visa and passport fees to fund its operations, the State Department said that the sharp drop in fee revenue from the pandemic “will have continuing effects on our staffing and available resources for several years, which means even when post-specific conditions improve, many posts will not be able to immediately return to pre-pandemic workload levels.”
Note: This is not a legal advice and for information purposes only.
Chris Caday Lozano, Esq. is an active member of the State Bar of California, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association. He specializes in immigration law, bankruptcy law and income tax preparation. For free consultation email or call (firstname.lastname@example.org / 1-877-456-9266)