MANILA,Philippines - US President Barrack Obama has ordered visa renewals be expedited to ease the backlog of visa applicants across the world, according to the US Embassy in the Philippines.
US Embassy Consul General Michael Schimmel said that Obama made the announcement last January as a measure to promote US tourism.
However, Schimmel said there are certain conditions that have to be met to qualify for the expedited process for visa renewal. He said this is only applicable to renewal of tourist US visa or those under the category of B1/B2 type of visa and with an effectivity period of 5 or 10 years.
The visa must also be renewed within 12 months from the date of the expiration.
If these qualifications are met, there is no need for the visa owner to be interviewed. The visa owner will only be asked to bring the expired visa to the embassy, where he/ she will undergo electronic fingerprinting and pay the corresponding fees. The new visa will be sent back to the owner via courier.
Schimmel said the visa owner still has to make an appointment through their website to schedule their visit to the embassy for the visa renewal.
On the other hand, those applying for an immigrant visa would have to undergo an entirely a different process and would still have to go through the regular process.
Those with tourist visas that have expired more than 12 months from the date of expiration, visas that were classified as "Multiple Indefinite", and those with expired student visas but would like to return as tourists will likewise have to go through the regular process.
But Schimmel said "the process would not be that hard" as others would perceive.
The US embassy in the Philippines receives between 700 to 1,000 applications for non-immigrant visa every day and about 70 percent are approved. For visa renewal, the approval rate is about 98-99%.
In the past, only 7 out of every 10 tourist or business visa applications filed with the United States embassy in Manila were approved.
In China and Brazil, Schimmel explains, the backlog of tourist visa applications has increased by 60% and 50% respectively. US embassies in both countries have obvious demands that they could not anymore meet. The rise of middle-class in the two countries were seen by Obama as an opportunity for more tourist arrivals in the United States.
Unlike the Philippines, the US government allowed China and Brazil applicants to qualify for the expedited process even after 48 months from the date of their visa expiration. They expect that the percentage of visa grants is expected to dramatically rise with the liberalization of the grant of visas for those wanting to visit the US as tourist.
Schimmel said the Obama administration "hopes to see 30-40% more (tourist) applicants" in this two countries. Schimmel adds that "steps are being taken to broaden the program."
The US embassy official also warned visa-seeking individuals to be wary of visa consultants that have mushroomed in major cities.
Schimmel said they are continuing efforts to curb the visa fixing problem, and that they are continuously cooperating with local authorities.
The number of visa fixing cases are in the hundreds, he said, and majority have been barred from travelling to the US.
Schimmel advised the public to simply go to their website rather than go through the visa consultants. "Visa consultants should not be providing you with documentation," he said.
The Philippines is not among 36 countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Nationals of countries covered by VWP can travel to the US for tourism or business purposes without a visa and stay for not more than 90 days.
Only four Asian countries are in the VWP: Brunei Darussalam, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
For a country to qualify, the rate of visa application refusal must be less than two percent. The Philippines' visa application refusal rate is currently around 30 percent.