Technical Snafu Clogs Global Issuance of U.S. Visas

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At the height of summer, when U.S. consular posts are brimming with tourist, high-tech and student visa applicants, the U.S Department of State (DOS) says a technical glitch is hampering its ability to issue visas around the world. Students, H-1B professionals, and O and P visa performers and athletes are stranded as they wait for already approved visas to be stamped in their passports so they can enter the U.S. to start school and work, or meet tour and performance schedules.

DOS has reported that its global data-processing system experienced significant problems, including wholesale outages between July 19 and July 23. Although the system was brought back online July 23, it continues to malfunction, says DOS, with observers estimating that tens of thousands of visas working their way through the printing process are being affected.

This malfunctions comes on the heels of various recent technical meltdowns of federal government databases and computer systems, including the initial public sign-up for Obamacare, the loss of a batch of significant emails of an IRS official accused of political meddling, and technical problems dogging the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).

At a recent DOS briefing, spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department does not believe there was “malicious intent” involved in the outage and ongoing subsequent slowdown. Rather, she said, the root of the problem is a combination of software optimization and hardware compatibility. Investors, nannies, and other foreign workers, meanwhile, already approved following their consular visa interviews are stuck at home waiting for their stamped passports.

In India, according to The Wall Street Journal, high-tech workers and researchers due to report to work with large U.S. pharmaceutical companies and IT firms have had their visa interviews cancelled or rescheduled. The WSJ says the slowdown has meant the boss of the German soccer club Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, is among the club’s staff unable to join a tour of the U.S. starting this week. The glitch has also prevented a Venezuelan government official, Rafael Ramirez, from traveling to New York to meet with bankers and investors to seek much-needed financing for his nation’s crippled economy.

Once a consular officer approves a visa, the application must be recorded and the visa cleared and printed through the database. Until the system is fully restored, consular officers are unable to issue and print visas, which are placed in applicants’ passports. As of July 30, DOS said it cannot predict how long it will take to handle the backlog in visa issuance.