COVID-19 measures mean longer wait at US embassy


Tribune Staff Reporter


BAHAMIAN citizens and residents applying for visa appointments at the United States Embassy in Nassau will have to wait longer than usual to get an appointment as a result of new requirements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials announced yesterday.

The embassy’s section consular chief for Nassau, Lance Posey said while all visa services at the agency have resumed, officials have had to limit the number of visa appointments in keeping with the current COVID-19 protocols.

In pre-COVID days, waiting times for visa appointments would usually be between five to ten days.

However, according to Mr Posey, for some visa categories, it can now take up to several months.

He said: “The US Embassy Consular Section with visas is open for business but wait times are much longer than before the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently accepting all applications for all visa categories and the visa requirements have not changed at all.

“As you could imagine, due to (the) COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing regulations, we are unable to conduct the same number of interviews per week that we were able to do before COVID and so our wait times currently depend on several factors including the type of visa category that someone may actually be applying for.”

He added: “We try to open new appointments whenever we can. We are constantly managing the appointment calendar looking at the circumstances on the ground, how it’s related to COVID, how our staffing and everything works and opening new appointments as we are able. But for some visa categories, the wait time can be several months.

“This is a big change from what Bahamians and people that live in our consular district are used to when wait times pre COVID were five to ten business days and please note it’s probably going to be some time before we recover to pre COVID wait times for visa appointments. That’s going to be dependent on many factors including social distancing, our requirements - both the government of The Bahamas and the US Embassy.”

Mr Posey also revealed that prior to COVID, officials would usually conduct some 140 visa interviews Monday to Thursday.

However, he said that number has considerably declined since the pandemic and suggested the situation might not improve until the embassy returns to its normal operating procedures.

He told reporters: “Last year, in pre-COVID days, we did approximately between 100 and 140 visa interviews per day Monday through Thursday. Now we’re running like 75, two to three times a week. So, you could imagine that it’s created a wait time that is stretched out quite far but that’s generally where (we) are now.

“We hope to raise those numbers as we can increase our staffing and increase more time. The biggest problem that we’re faced with now is our waiting room. We have to run about 30 percent capacity in our waiting room for social distancing reasons and therefore, we just can’t move the same number of people throughout our waiting room.”

With the impending roll-out of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, he said officials are hoping things will improve and some normalcy will return.

For those questioning when might be a good time to apply for visa appointments, Mr Posey said: “We recommend that if you do not have urgent travel then we encourage you to wait until you’re ready to really travel but if you do have travel needs. We strongly recommend that you plan ahead.

“In those extreme urgent situations where people need an expedited appointment, we do have a mechanism for people to apply for expedited visa appointments…but we are only granting expedited appointments in very, very limited circumstances – medical needs, funerals and other emergencies.”

He also encouraged Bahamians who qualify for pre-clearance to utilise the visa free travel option through Lynden Pindling airport, especially those going on short trips for leisure. More information can be found at https://bs.usembassy.gov/preclearance.

For those applying for student visas, he said the embassy continues to prioritise student visa interviews.

Last March, the US Embassy in Nassau cancelled routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa appointments to help control the spread of COVID-19. But, two months later, embassy officials began to resume some services, starting with student visa appointments.

Yesterday, Mr Posey said: “Since January of this year, we have been more in an operational setting or we’ve been trying to have a more routine visa operation going and we hope that continue to get more and more robust and we’re able to open more and more appointments.”

Asked if officials found that many Bahamians were unable to meet the visa requirements like having a job due to the economic impacts brought on by COVID-19, he replied: “Our statistics don’t support that. Like I said, our statistics (of) just visa interviews and the number of refusals for Bahamian citizens has not declined over the last couple of years. It’s stayed fairly steady, and we have not seen an uptick in the number of refusals over the last couple of years or months for that matter.”


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