State Department:

Backlogs of Tourist Visas at U.S. Consulates

NSIAD-92-185: Published: Apr 30, 1992. Publicly Released: May 14, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed U.S. consulates' tourist visa processing, focusing on whether: (1) other U.S. consulates than the one in Sao Paulo, Brazil had visa backlogs; (2) consulates had enough resources for visa processing; and (3) tourism promotion is a Department of State priority.

GAO found that: (1) during 1991, 12 of the 43 reviewed consulates, including the one in Sao Paulo had nonimmigration visa backlogs exceeding 1 week and ranging up to 2 months; (2) those backlogs occurred primarily during peak tourist seasons; (3) 30 consulates reported such staffing problems as inadequate permanent positions, position vacancies, or inadequate additional staff during peak tourist seasons; (4) the number of visa applications processed per consular officer and the use of time-saving practices varied widely among consulates; (5) tourists reported that they occasionally experienced considerable inconvenience in obtaining visas; (6) embassy officials suggested that State charge fees for nonimmigrant visas more extensively than it does and obtain legislative authority to use fee collections for additional staffing and facilities; (7) State is mandated to facilitate travel rather than to promote tourism; (8) the Department of Commerce takes the lead role in promoting tourism; (9) of the 43 consulates reviewed, 19 had tourism promotion activities; and (10) consular officials and foreign travel industry representatives believe there should be more communication between consulate representatives and the travel industry.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State agreed with the recommendation, but does not plan to implement it at this time. Congress has required State to study whether consular affairs can be made self-supporting. This study involves many complex legal and political considerations. As part of the study, State will be looking at the feasibility of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: If analyses indicate that the imposition of a new nonimmigrant tourist visa fee could result in funding for more cost-effective and efficient visa processing, the Secretary of State should seek legislative authority to implement a pilot program enabling consulates to use new nonimmigrant tourist visa fees to augment existing consular resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State agreed with the recommendation and authorized a position for revising the Consular Management Handbook. Two people were initially assigned to do the revision, but have been reassigned to higher priority work. State does not know if or when it will be able to implement the recommendation.

    Recommendation: Because good communications with travel industry representatives and foreign commercial officers should help consulates handle increased visa work loads during peak tourist seasons, the Secretary of State should direct that the next revision of the Consular Management Handbook emphasize that consular officers maintain regular communication with host country travel industry representatives in all countries.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State agreed with the recommendation and authorized a position for revising the Consular Management Handbook. Two people were initially assigned to do the revision, but have been reassigned to higher priority work. State does not know if or when it will be able to implement the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the handbook describes the time-saving techniques used by some consulates as discussed in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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