At one time, the paperwork to get a visa to enter the United States for a meeting was largely a formality—unless the visitor was an illegal immigration risk. Not anymore. The visa bottleneck clogged after 9/11, and most observers expect the situation to worsen before it eases.
"Visa applications undergo much more scrutiny by multiple agencies, and this is increasing the wait time for many travelers and may be deterring travel to the U.S.," says Edward M. Fluhr, manager of legislative affairs for the Travel Industry Association of America. Today, those multiple agencies may include the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
TIA anticipates the process will only get more arduous. "(The Department of) State is supposed to interview most, if not all applicants, but has often waived this requirement. That is changing, and there will be many more applicant interviews soon," Fluhr says. If so, many more visa seekers will need to apply in person at a U.S. consulate rather than through the mail or a third party agency.
And it’s not easy finding out exactly what the government wants, although the state department is taking small steps to make it clear. A new web site, www.unitedstatesvisas.gov, includes step-by-step instructions on the process, emphasizing three types of temporary visas: business, education, and tourist.