- Applying for a tourist visa can be expensive and confusing.
- The process may discourage some travelers from visiting the United States
- Visa policy seeks to balance economic and national security priorities.
Obtaining permission for international visitors to come to the United States can be difficult
Onyi Apakama knows this firsthand. He is a first-generation American born to two Nigerian immigrants, and most of his family still lives abroad.
A complicated and expensive tourist visa application process means her relatives have missed major milestones with her family in the US.
“It was certainly a sad thing because she was (my cousin’s) younger sister,” Apakama said. “He couldn’t attend his sister’s wedding.”
For Americans, it can be easy to forget how complicated international travel can be depending on your passport.
Those with a US passport can Access to 186 international destinations According to the Henley Passport Index, we almost never need to go through the hassle and expense of filling out additional documents or going to a country’s embassy to prove ourselves before we travel, without applying for a visa in advance.
But many visitors to the United States face a more difficult process.
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According to Esra Calvert, approximately 40% of international visitors to the United States must apply for a visa to enter. Calvert is the principal of Esra Calvert Consulting, which focuses on information in the tourism industry.
“There’s paperwork you have to do online and you’re waiting for your appointment,” she told USA TODAY. “When it’s time for your appointment, you go to the embassy for an interview. You just have to show your finances, what your plans are, very basic information to prove you’re going on vacation or a business meeting.”
In Nigeria, Apakama said, getting a visa appointment can also be difficult if your family is not well connected politically.
These additional barriers sometimes deter people from applying for visas at all – to say nothing of those whose applications are rejected. This means the US is potentially missing out on a lot of tourist dollars that would otherwise be generated each year.
according to Department of CommerceIn 2019, tourism generated an economic output of 1.9 trillion dollars.
“There are so many options for travelers,” Calvert said. “If the traveler has to wait a year” they will go elsewhere just to get the visa interview for vacation.
Raoul Bianchi, reader in political economy at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Department of Economic Policy and International Business, said tourist visa applications disproportionately make travel difficult for people from developing countries.
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“The global north/global south divide is very sharp,” he said in an interview. “There is a big gap between 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 speaking to the press about their experiences will hurt their chances of being approved.
How much is a tourist visa to visit the USA?
According to the State Department, applying for a tourist visa costs $160 per person. They can be valid for up to 10 years, depending on the nationality of the applicant.
As inflation increases, fees become more prohibitive for some travelers.
“Costs have gone up. And now with inflation (and) the exchange rate, the Nigerian naira has weakened a lot in the last year or six months,” Apakama said.
When he visited Nigeria in 2019 or 2020, it was around 350 naira to the dollar. It is now close to 430 naira to a dollar, meaning his relatives can pay tens of thousands of naira in visa fees for the whole family to visit.
These fees are non-refundable and non-transferable even if the application is denied, the State Department said in a statement.
“The department’s consular operations are funded primarily through fees for services. Visa fees charged are generally based on the department’s costs of providing visa services and are determined through periodic reviews of the cost of consular services, including visa services,” the spokesperson said. “This means that there is no benefit to the US government from collecting the fees. Rather, the fee is intended to cover the costs of providing the service to the US government.”
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Who needs a tourist visa to come to the United States?
Visa requirements can change over time and have become more stringent in recent decades, especially for those coming to the United States.
“On average, two-thirds of people worldwide must obtain a visa before leaving the country. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and more recent terrorist attacks around the world changed the discourse on immigration and international tourism within Europe and North America,” University of Otago Business in New Zealand. Pooneh Torabian, a teacher in the Tourism Department of his school, said. “Since 9/11, international travel has become more regulated in the name of safety and security, and the international movement of ethnic minority citizens, particularly Arab and Muslim travelers, has been impeded.”
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Bianchi agreed, noting that visa policies often reflect a country’s broader geopolitical positions.
For example, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, his administration banned visitors from many Muslim-majority countries, reflecting the president’s immigration priorities. Even after President Joe Biden reversed the policy, lawyers say little has changed from a practical point of view.
“Often visa policy can be a reflection of bilateral diplomatic relations or representative of something else going on,” Bianchi said.
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Apakama said restrictions on visa applicants can feel highly discriminatory.
“Who are the people we believe as a country will contribute to society and who are not,” he said.
Many applicants feel that there is human arbitrariness involved in the process.
“My family members believe that whoever is interviewing you that day is just their mood,” Apakama said. When the visa interviewer seemed angry, the family felt their application was being scrutinized more and was more likely to be rejected.
The United States has visa waiver agreements with 40 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and many European countries. Canadian citizens also usually do not need to apply for tourist visas to visit the United States. disclaimer list Generally, you need to apply for a tourist visa before coming here.
Even if a visitor has a visa, border guards have the right to turn them back at passport control. Apakama said he had relatives who were denied entry after landing in the United States and were put on a flight back to Nigeria.
How long does it take to get a US tourist visa?
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, US embassies and consulates have struggled to respond to visa applications, with wait times in some locations exceeding a year.
“It discourages visitors,” Calvert said. “In this day and age, with all the difficulties that travelers have to face with the visa application process, there may be some opportunities to reduce the number of visa backlogs.”
of the State Department waiting time calculator According to estimates, the consulate in Mumbai now schedules tourist visa appointments for 848 days, although the department says the over-waiting is excessive.
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“We are reducing appointment wait times as quickly as possible in all visa classes around the world. In fact, visa processing is recovering faster than predicted after an almost complete shutdown and freeze of resources during the pandemic,” the spokesperson said. “Half of our overseas posts have waiting times for a routine visa appointment of less than four months, with some posts much shorter. Candidates with urgent travel needs who can apply outside their home country should try to do so.”
Will it be easier to get US visas?
Manchester Metropolitan University’s Bianchi said visa policies are constantly changing.
“There are tensions and conflicts within governments. They don’t work as a monolith,” he said. They are in favor of tightening visas because their concern is security.”
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This push and pull means that making visas more accessible is usually a slow and contentious process. Calvert, meanwhile, said the U.S. will continue to lose potential tourist dollars.
“I worry about the price as a barrier and these visa regulations,” he said. “Travel shouldn’t be so hard. How do we keep the world open?”
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