The Other Immigration Crisis: Endless Visa Waits
The U.S. will lose talent and jobs to Canada and other countries if it keeps making it difficult to live and work here legally.
This piece originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal
A quiet crisis has been brewing in U.S. diplomatic posts around the world: months, even years, of visa-processing delays. As an entrepreneur and investor who seeks out the world’s top talent to create prosperity in America, I’m sounding the alarm. When we make it needlessly difficult to visit and work in the U.S., we miss out on talent, cause unnecessary headaches for residents and encourage businesses to move jobs abroad.
In New Delhi, an appointment for a nonimmigrant visitor visa takes more than 800 calendar days, or nearly three years; for a student visa, nearly 450 days. The Cato Institute found that more than half of U.S. embassies and consulates world-wide have a waiting time greater than six months for a visitor or business visa appointment, compared with 1% before the pandemic. More than 1 in 4 have a waiting time of a year or more.
The pandemic exacerbated this dysfunction but didn’t create it. There are countless people living and working in the U.S. who have been in immigration purgatory for years—waiting for an appointment and unable to leave and re-enter the country until they get one. This affects everyone from Iranian asylum seekers to British Silicon Valley CEOs.
Americans broadly support high-skilled immigration and a reasonable visa regime. It’s become a running joke in Silicon Valley that major Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver are now “waiting rooms’’ for high-skilled foreigners who got unlucky in the crapshoot that is the U.S. immigration system. We shouldn’t laugh, since America and its economy are the butt of the joke.
In March Congress enacted the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 to streamline the immigrant-visa process for foreign investors who commit significant capital to the U.S. But that reform is swamped by slow administration. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services advises applicants that 80% of cases (excluding Chinese nationals, who take even longer to process) are resolved within 52 months, or nearly 4½ years.
For many U.S. Indians, one of our largest immigrant populations, the dysfunction is becoming personally untenable. Even permanent U.S. residents with family in India may reconsider working here if relatives have to wait years for a short visit.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has blamed the delays on money troubles (visa processing is funded by fees) and social distancing in embassies. If money is an issue, he should ask Congress for more; if social distancing in embassies is an issue, he should change the policies to reflect that the threat from Covid-19 has receded. Either way, this crisis demands real leadership.