At one time, the paperwork for international meeting attendees to get a visa to enter the United States was largely a formality. Not any more. 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.

TIAA anticipates the process getting more arduous. “The Department of State is supposed to interview most, if not all applicants, but it has often waived this requirement. That's 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.

A new Web site, www.unitedstatesvisas.gov, includes step-by-step instructions on the process.