(Jamaica Observer) The United States Embassy in Kingston has confirmed that all interview dates for nonimmigrant visas have been exhausted for the rest of the year.
In fact, the embassy said the demand for visas is so heavy that it is scheduling 1 000 appointments daily.
A non-immigrant visa by definition is one issued to persons who live outside the US, but who have a desire to visit the US temporarily for various reasons, among them vacation, studying or on business.
Scores of Jamaicans had been telling the Jamaica Observer since last month that they were facing challenges in getting interview dates for the remaining four months of this year, due to what travel agents told them was the unusually high number of requests that have been made of the US Embassy.
Applicants can apply directly online to the US Embassy, but many have opted to use the services of travel agencies to secure interview dates for them, for a fee.
Now, there is concern in some quarters, as many Jamaicans are now forced to shelve plans to visit the US later this year, to attend various events, including Thanksgiving celebrations on Thursday, November 24, and spend time with family and friends.
Joshua Polacheck, counselor for public affairs at the US Embassy in Kingston, told the Sunday Observer that the increase in applications had, in effect, put a strain on the system at the Embassy. He admitted that all the existing dates for interviews had expired for 2016, but insisted that the Embassy was willing to consider applicants who had “urgent” matters to deal with in the US.
“The US Embassy is currently processing an unprecedented number of non-immigrant visa cases,” Polacheck said in an e-mail response to the Sunday Observer.
“From fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2016, the number of applications has gone up from approximately 85 000 per year to 185 000 per year. In order to accommodate this demand we have scheduled as many as 1,000 appointments a day; the number on any particular day is based on the number of consular officers available to conduct interviews.
“Those appointments we have opened for the remainder of the year are currently filled, but we will be adjusting the appointment capacity as our staff numbers change. These continual adjustments explain why applicants on any given day may find a different range of dates available than applicants find on the next day,” Polacheck said.
The US Embassy official emphasised that certain categories of travellers would not be facing the same challenges as persons seeking non-immigrant visas.
“It is important to note that special visa categories such as students (F1 and J1), crew members (C1/D), and temporary workers (H2A, H2B) have separate appointment queues with much shorter wait times. As we move into ‘back-to-school’ mode, we know that students need to get to school, agricultural workers need to get to the fall crops, and workers need to get to their jobs.