Wait for US visas set to grow if severe budget cuts kick in
Queues for visas at already swamped US embassies are likely to get longer if major budget cuts kick in at the State Department.
Faced with ballooning demand, the State Department had started recruiting more consular officers to deal with the rising volume of traffic, deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell said this week.
But if the "sequester order" took effect, the department would be forced to cut back its programmes, including consular services, he warned.
In Hong Kong, Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, called on Washington to grant visa-free assess to SAR passport holders to help resolve any delay if there were budget cuts.
"Hong Kong provides visa-free access for US residents and I don't see why their government can't offer us the same treatment, which would save them a lot of manpower in issuing visas," Tung said.
According to the Hong Kong Immigration Department, 147 territories do allow visa-free access for SAR passport holders, including the UK.
An employee at Hong Thai Travel said it usually took about two weeks for a Hong Kong resident to obtain a US visa. The process includes an interview and applicants are informed of the result of their application on the day of the interview.
In the US, it was apparent there was no legislative solution that would stop automatic budget cuts - the so-called sequester - kicking in yesterday, forcing a wide range of government agencies to trim their services.
"We've had a huge influx of new consulate officers in hotspots like India, China, Brazil, where you have middle-class folk who are trying to come to the US for the first time to visit and spend their money," Ventrell said.
About 90 per cent of people seeking a US visa around the world are interviewed within three weeks of applying. In China the waiting time is about five days, while in Sao Paulo, Brazil, it was cut from 140 days to two.