In an executive order signed today (Jan. 27), US president Donald Trump instructed the State Department to immediately suspend the US’s Visa Interview Waiver Program. It’s an interesting action by a president who has made trade a central tenet of his policy platform, since it could, in the short term, inconvenience many frequent visitors to the US (and even dissuade them from visiting) by forcing them to have a face-to-face interview with a US consular officer every time their visa expires rather than simply dropping off their passport at a consulate.
Suspending the program could wreak havoc on US consular operations around the world that handle frequent visits from travelers seeking short term visas. The Visa Interview Waiver Program allows travelers to renew travel authorizations without an in-person interview.
The action is not expected to have any effect on the widely popular Visa Waiver Program, familiar to many by its front-line system, ESTA. That program allows nationals of 38 countries—including much of Europe—to enter the US without securing a visa at a consulate first.
A State department spokesman could not immediately confirm the precise effects of suspending this program, but said that it would announce any changes affecting travelers to the US as soon as possible.
On top of the increased visa processing, much of the senior leadership at the State Department just resigned en masse according to the Washington Post, adding a new management challenge on top of the looming operational challenge.
Many of the officials who resigned held key operational posts, such as the undersecretary for management, the assistant secretary of state for administration, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, and the director of the Office of Foreign Missions
Alongside the instruction to suspend the program is a directive to hire more consular workers to ensure that the suspension does not increase processing times.
The order is at odds with Trump’s pledge to stimulate the US economy by reducing its trade deficit and increasing exports. Money foreigners spend in the US is tabulated as a US export, so actions that stymie tourism are direct impediments to exports and will exacerbate the trade deficit, by definition.
We can’t say for sure how many more visas certain consulates will have to process because the US does not publish statistics on the Visa Interview Waiver Program specifically.
The duration of validity for a visa can range from months to years and is often different for nationals from different countries. Frequent visitors to the US would only have to visit a consulate after their visa expired, not necessarily before every trip. As such, the effects of suspending this program on travelers and consulates will vary from country to country.