Faced by a recalcitrant Republican Party and pursuant to an earlier bipartisan agreement US President Barack Obama had to sign the budget cut law 2 March 2013. Automatic cuts of up to $90 billion are seen to seriously affect US Government Operations, including that of the State Department and the Visa Office. Will you be waiting longer?
Will the US Budget Cuts Affect Visa Applications?
The budget ax has fallen, and if some reports are to be believed, the cuts will be on the backs of US visa applicants.
US President Barack Obama signed the mandatory budget cuts March 2, 2013 formalizing $85 billion across-the-board cuts for fiscal year 2013. The cuts, called “sequestration” is reported to negatively impact both defense and social spending.
If no compromise is reached wherein an alternative budget pan is agreed upon by both Republicans and Democrats, another $1.2 trillion of painful cuts will be felt in the next 10 years.
The South China Morning Post reported on March 1, 2013 that “tourists and business people seeking visas to visit the United States could face even longer waits at already swamped US embassies if severe budget cuts kick in at the State Department.”
Quoting US State Department Deputy Acting Spokesman Patrick Ventrell, the Morning Post further said that “if the sequester takes effect the department will be forced to cut back its programs, including consular services.”
“With the series of automatic spending cuts, Democrats and Republicans are playing a game of political chicken, with neither party willing to compromise in the latest round of America's 18-month-old fiscal drama” the report continued.
The Republicans are blaming President Obama for lack of leadership needed to pass a compromise bill. President Obama is accusing the Republicans of sacrificing America’s middle class by refusing to tax the rich.
How will the cuts affect visa issuance?
First, an overview of the proposed budget of the US State Department for 2013 based from the official State Department document.
“The FY 2013 request of $13.511 billion for enduring State Operations appropriations support the Department’s overseas and domestic programs, Presidential initiatives, and the enduring costs for the U.S. civilian presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. This represents a $1.097 billion net increase over the FY 2012 estimate, including an increase of $390.6 million to meet the President’s commitment to fully pay international organization and peacekeeping assessments; an increase of $563.4 million for State Programs, including Diplomatic and Consular Programs (D&CP); an increase of $100.7 million in Embassy Security Construction and Maintenance (ESCM); and an increase of $66 million for Other Administration of Foreign Affairs Programs. Funding for Related Programs and International Commissions includes a decrease of $23.4 million from the net FY 2012 estimate. In addition to appropriated funding, the FY 2013 request includes $3.3 billion in fee-funded activities, primarily the Border Security Program.”
Retired Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton requested an “increase of $563.4 million for State Programs, including Diplomatic and Consular Programs” which logically includes consular work on the processing and issuance of visas.
In the same report, the State Department showed that projected collection from Machine Readable Visa Fees (MRVs) which includes the tourist visas (B-1/B2 varieties) would actually result in an increase of $56 million – based on collection figures from 2011 and 2012.
The actual fees collected from visa fees (Total Collections Available) were $1,281,734 in 2011; $1,694,656 for 2012 and $1,777,994 projected income from 2013 creating a surplus of $83,338.
If we are to go by simply the amount of fees collected from the processing and issuance of visa fees, even if the State Department does not add consular officers, there should actually be improved and faster processing since there is a projected surplus.
Second, an increase in budget appropriations for US government agencies do not actually translate into faster processing of visas, especially in the immigrant visa categories. For example, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services increased the application and petitions fees twice – in 2007 and 2010.
However, if you are a green card holder filing a petition for your spouse or minor children, you will have to wait for 1 year and six months to get your petition approved. And that’s fast. For US citizens filing petitions for over 21 unmarried sons and daughter, the waiting period from filing to approval is 3 years and 2 months (based on the USCIS website for Processing Times).
The Migration Policy Institute – an immigrant advocacy group in the US - recommends that the
“USCIS should clarify to Congress and the public how much it spends directly on adjudications activities, how much on asylum and refugee services, and how much on overall USCIS administration, infrastructure improvements, and other non-adjudicatory responsibilities.
In doing so, USCIS could better justify its fee levels and establish the exact burden of direct processing and other costs borne by immigration benefit applicants.”
EssentiAlly, MPI is saying, does the increased fees go to salaries, salary increases, perks and benefits instead of going into improvement of visa processing?
Third, immigrant visas are issued based on priority dates or dates of filing and acknowledgment. Since there is a quota for the Family and Employment-based preference categories, an increase or decrease in fees should not by itself cause the slowdown of visa processing since there is a set amount of visas to be processed.
Finally, the State Department report confirms that 66 million tourist visas were issued last year. For every 65 tourist visas issued, one (1) American job is created. This means, tourists create more than one million US jobs yearly.
It would seem foolhardy or even a death wish for US consuls to delay processing of tourist visas simply because of budget cuts when visa fees actually are projected to increase this year.