- Tourist visas can be expensive and confusing to apply for.
- The process may deter some travelers from visiting the US.
- Visa policies try to balance economic and national security priorities.
It can be difficult for international visitors to obtain permission to come to the US.
Onyi Apakama knows this firsthand. She is a first-generation American born to two Nigerian immigrants, and much of her family still lives abroad.
A complicated and expensive tourist visa application process means that your relatives have not achieved important milestones with the family here in the US.
“It was definitely a sad thing because she was (my cousin’s) younger sister,” Apakama said. “She was unable to attend her sister’s wedding.”
For Americans, it can be easy to forget how complicated international travel can be depending on your passport.
US passport holders can access 186 international destinations without applying for visas in advance according to the Henley Passport Index, which means we almost never have to go through the hassle and expense of completing additional paperwork or appearing at a country’s embassy to get tested before a trip.
But many visitors to the United States face a much more arduous process.
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According to Esra Calvert, about 40% of international visitors to the US need to apply for a visa to enter. Calvert is the director of Esra Calvert Consulting, which focuses on data in the tourism industry.
“There’s paperwork you have to do online and you wait for your appointment time,” she told USA TODAY. “When it’s time for your appointment, you go to the embassy for an interview. You have to show proof of finances, what your plans are, very basic information just like proof that you’re going on vacation or a business meeting.”
In Nigeria, Apakama said, it can also be more difficult to get a visa appointment if your family doesn’t have good political connections.
Those additional barriers sometimes discourage people from applying for visas, let alone those whose applications are rejected. That means the US is potentially missing out on a huge amount of tourist dollars that would otherwise be generated each year.
according to the Department of Commercetourism accounted for $1.9 trillion in economic output in 2019.
“There are so many options for travelers,” Calvert said. “If a traveler has to wait a year” just to get his visa interview, he will go somewhere else. for vacations.
Raoul Bianchi, political economy reader at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Economic Policy and International Business, said tourist visa applications make it disproportionately difficult for people to travel from the developing world.
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“The global north/global south divide is very sharp,” he said in an interview. “There is a huge disparity between the rich westernized countries and sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central America and South Asia.”
The process can be so opaque that experts suggest many visa applicants fear that discussing their experiences with the press could hamper their ability to get approved.
How much does a tourist visa cost to visit the United States?
According to the State Department, it costs $160 per person to apply for a tourist visa. They can be valid for up to 10 years, depending on the applicant’s nationality.
Fares are becoming more prohibitive for some travelers as inflation rises.
“The cost has gone up. And right now with inflation (and) the exchange rate, the Nigerian naira has weakened a lot in the last year or six months,” Apakama said.
When you visited Nigeria in 2019 or 2020, it was around 350 naira to the dollar. She is now closer to 430 naira to the dollar, which means her relatives could end up paying tens of thousands of naira in visa fees alone for an entire family unit to visit.
In a statement, the State Department said those fees are non-refundable and non-transferable, even if the application is denied.
“The department’s consular operations are largely funded by service fees. Visa fees are generally based on the cost to the department of providing visa services and are determined through periodic surveys of the cost of consular services, including visa services,” a spokesman said. he said. “This means that the US government does not make a profit from charging the fees. Rather, the fee is set to recover the cost to the US government of providing the service.”
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Who is required to obtain a tourist visa to come to the United States?
Visa requirements can change over time and, especially for visitors from the US, have become more stringent in recent decades.
“An average of two-thirds of people worldwide are required to obtain a visa before leaving. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and more recent terrorist attacks around the world have changed the discourse of immigration and tourism within Europe and North America,” Pooneh Torabian, a professor in the Department of Tourism at the University of Otago business school in New Zealand, said in a statement. “Since 9/11, international travel has become more regulated in the name of security, and the international movement of ethnic minority citizens, specifically Arab and Muslim travelers, has been hampered.”
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Bianchi agreed, noting that visa policies often reflect the broader geopolitical views of a country.
For example, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, his administration enacted a ban on visitors from many Muslim-majority countries, a reflection of the president’s immigration priorities. Yet even since President Joe Biden reversed that policy, advocates say little has changed in practical terms.
“Very often visa policies can be a reflection of bilateral diplomatic relations or a proxy for something else going on,” Bianchi said.
The story continues below.
To visa applicants, Apakama said, the restrictions can look like high-level discrimination.
“Who are the people that we as a country think are going to contribute to society and who are not?” he said.
Many applicants feel that there is also human arbitrariness in the process.
“My family members think he’s the one interviewing you that day and it’s just his mood,” Apakama said. When the visa interviewer seemed grumpy, his family felt his applications faced more scrutiny and were more likely to be denied.
The United States has visa waiver agreements with 40 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and many European nations. Canadian citizens also generally do not need to apply for tourist visas to visit the US. Travelers using passports from countries not on the exemption list it is usually necessary to apply for tourist visas before coming here.
Even when a visitor has a visa, border guards have the discretion to turn them away at passport control. Apakama said that he had relatives who were denied entry after landing in the US and flown back to Nigeria.
How long does it take to obtain a tourist visa for the United States?
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, US embassies and consulates have struggled to keep up with visa applications, and in some places, the wait time for an appointment is now more than a year. .
“It’s putting visitors off,” Calvert said. “For all the hassle travelers have to go through with the visa application process in this day and age, there could be some opportunities to reduce visa backlog numbers.”
of the Department of State waiting time calculator estimates that the consulate in Mumbai is now scheduling tourist visa appointments 848 days in advance, though the department says the extreme wait is an outlier.
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“We are reducing appointment wait times across all visa classes as quickly as possible, around the world. In fact, visa processing is recovering faster than anticipated, after a near-complete shutdown and freeze. of resources during the pandemic,” a spokesman said. “The wait time for a routine visa appointment at half of our overseas posts is less than four months, and at some posts it is much shorter than that. Applicants who have urgent travel needs and can file their request outside their own country of origin should seek to do so.”
Will it ever be easier to get US visas?
Bianchi, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said visa policies are constantly changing.
“There are tensions and conflicts within governments. They don’t function as a monolith,” he said. “You will get the tourism industry in alliance with the tourism ministries, but the interior ministries, or in your case, the Department of Homeland Security, will be very much in favor of toughening visas. because their concern is safety.”
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That back-and-forth means that making visas more accessible is often a slow and controversial process. In the meantime, Calvert said, the US will continue to lose potential tourist dollars.
“I am concerned about the price barrier and these visa regulations,” he said. “Travel shouldn’t be that hard. How do we keep the world open?”
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