SA travellers face a long wait for visas – with US appointments only open in 2023

Business Insider SA – 02 August 2022

South Africans looking to travel abroad have been met with visa processing delays.

  • These delays are most noticeable for those wanting to visit America, with no appointment slots left in 2022, according to Rennies BCD Travel.
  • Would-be travellers may get an “appointment waiver”, speeding the process up significantly, if they’ve had a US visa that expired in the past two years.

Visa processing delays are frustrating South Africans who are looking to travel abroad, with appointments for interviews with the United States (US) consulate only available from February 2023.

“Visa availability continues to be a struggle for travellers,” warned corporate and online travel management company Rennies BCD Travel in a notice to clients on Friday.

A massive backlog of visa applications, emanating from the pandemic-induced lockdown, which effectively halted travel and closed embassies, coupled with a resurgence of international movement in the past six months, has led to longer processing times. Like the airports experiencing chaos amid Europe’s summer holiday, staffing deficits are also impacting embassies.

Back in January, VFS Global, the world’s largest visa outsourcing firm, confirmed longer waiting times and limited appointment slots. The US warned “that it may take several months to schedule an interview appointment”, while the UK High Commission in Pretoria, in May, confirmed “longer processing times” and urged travellers to “apply in good time”.

Visa appointment and processing times for some European destinations, like Austria, Denmark, Italy, and Spain, range from two weeks to six weeks. Although Germany is taking appointments in August, the total processing time listed by Rennies is up to four weeks, while the earliest date for an appointment with the Dutch embassy in Pretoria is 1 September.

Wait times for an appointment for those wishing to travel to the UK aren’t as long – estimated between one and two weeks according to Rennies – but the processing time could take up to two months.

Getting a visa appointment for travel to the US has the longest waiting period of any country listed by Rennies. Appointments in Cape Town are only open in February 2023, while Johannesburg’s wait time extends to May 2023.

The long wait for US visa appointments cited by Rennies is confirmed by the US department of consular affairs. Getting an appointment for a visitor visa in Johannesburg is estimated to take 240 days, or eight months, while the waiting period for “all other non-immigrant visas” is marginally shorter, at 210 days.

Getting an appointment for a US visitor visa in Cape Town, according to the department of consular affairs’ website, will take 121 days or around four months, which is quicker than Rennies’ estimate. Rennies, however, warns of a processing time of up to 12 weeks. Those applying for a student/exchange visitor visa could get an interview within three days, compared to two months for the same in Johannesburg.

There may, however, be some relief for those who’ve had a US visa in the past.

“If you have had a previous USA visa that expired in the last 48 months, you may qualify for an ‘appointment waiver’. This option takes anything from four to 12 weeks to be returned,” explained Rennies.

“There is no option for an earlier appointment unless the traveller has a compassionate case or can demonstrate an urgent or compelling need for business travel.”

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