By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Late last week the United States issued a statement saying it was having problems in its worldwide visa processing system and that delays were expected. During the first six months of 2014 more than half a million visas were issued to Brazilian nationals and foreigners living in Brazil, and the current issues will be affecting travel plans for thousands.
In 2013 more than one million U.S. visas were issued in Brazil, making Brazilians one of the largest groups of visitors entering the United States. More than 2,500 visas were processed per day during the month in São Paulo alone, as the city’s consulate is among the top issuers of U.S. visas in the world.
“We’ve had many, many people calling us, worried they will not get their U.S. visas in time for their trips,” says Vanessa Menezes, who works at Celestino Despachantes (agents who are middlemen in business transactions such as foreign visas, auto licensing, etc.). “There are some who are only traveling next month, but still wonder if their passports will arrive in time.”
The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs noted in its website that visa applicants they could experience delays of up to one week in addition to normal processing times. “We are continuing to process and send out passports with approved U.S. visas, but we are not processing these visas at our normal capacity,” according to a press officer at the U.S. São Paulo Consulate. Although applicants who had interviews on Friday, August 1st were asked to re-schedule, this week’s appointments are being kept as scheduled.
The U.S. Embassy in Brasilia also issued a statement stating that it was still working towards restoring visa systems to “full functionality after major technical issues with a critical database.” The embassy re-affirmed that “consular sections in Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio, and Recife are open for business as usual […] continuing to process and send out approved visas although it may not always be within our typical service standard of 10 days.”
It asked Brazilians who did not yet have a U.S. entry visa and were planning to visit the States in the next two weeks to delay their trips. Officials say that those facing emergency situations and need to travel to the U.S. immediately are asked to get in touch with their respective consulates.
These situations are being analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Both the U.S. press officer as well as Menezes emphasize that Brazilians seeking to travel to the United States have always been advised to obtain their visas before buying their airplane tickets.
“Everyone who calls here wanting to travel to the U.S. has always been advised to first obtain a visa and then purchase the ticket,” says Menezes, adding that first-time travelers sometimes get confused because on the form to be filled out it asks for a date of travel and address of where they are staying. “That’s only an approximate date and the city they will be visiting,” explains Menezes.
The United States has always been a favorite destination for Brazilians traveling abroad. According to the U.S. embassy website, in June, the United States Consulates in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Recife as well as the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, processed more than 87,000 visas.