On March 1, 2021, the U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price hosted a special briefing with Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, Julie M. Stufft. Appearing via teleconference, Ms. Stufft provided an update on the current status of immigrant visa processing at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad following the February 24, 2021, rescission of Presidential Proclamation 10014 and President Biden’s Executive Order 14012 on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems, signed on February 2, 2021.
Ms. Stufft reiterated that the primary bottleneck at this time is the COVID-19 pandemic—consular posts face reduced capacity and physical distancing restrictions as they must comply with CDC guidelines as well as local requirements of their host countries. This is compounded by the backlog that has grown during the pandemic. In January 2020, there were about 75,000 immigrant visa cases pending at the National Visa Center ready for interviews. By February 2021, there were 473,000—which is slightly lower than the annual number of immigrant visas issued pre-COVID. In other words, there is a year’s worth of cases waiting in line for immigrant visa appointments, interviews, and visas.
Ms. Stufft emphasized that the State Department is giving priority to immigrant visas at consular posts: “we’ve prioritized the processing of immigrant visas, full stop, at every post. As there is capacity, these will be the first visas adjudicated. Among those, we will continue to prioritize the processing of immigrant visas for spouses and children of U.S. citizens, including fiancé(e) visas not subject to regional restrictions.” When asked if this prioritization would impact nonimmigrant visa processing, she noted that the primary factor is the pandemic. More than 90% of the 136 immigrant visa posts are performing routine immigrant visa processing. However, only 43 out of 233 nonimmigrant posts are performing routine processing, with the remainder closed to all but emergency services. Historically, 95% of the annual visas issued by the State Department were for nonimmigrants, so capacity challenges would have a greater impact on those cases.
Ms. Stufft noted that it will take time to work through the backlog. “I can’t promise you that the numbers will decline month to month,” she said. “There are many factors that can have an impact, including the progression of the pandemic in countries worldwide.” However, she offered the commitment of the Consular Affairs office to provide transparency about its processes and to resolve the backlogs as quickly and efficiently as safely possible.