Snapshot: State/CA’s Revenue Drop, Staffing , Backlogs

13 Going on 14 — GFM:



Excerpt from Department of State/AILA Liaison Committee Meeting May 27, 2021:
11.DOS’ decision last year to suspend most of its visa operations overseas, while understandable given the COVID-19 global pandemic, has resulted in enormous frustration for applicants, who face a sizeable backlog of pending immigrant visa cases and limited availability of appointment slots for nonimmigrant travel. Please describe steps now being taken or that are under consideration to staff-up overseas consular operations and increase the numbers of visa appointments? Specifically, are there plans to surge overseas staffing with new officers or temporary assignment or detail (TDY) personnel, as was done a few years ago with domestic passport agencies to reduce their backlogs?
While the Department did suspend operations in March 2020, Presidential Proclamation 10014 (effective April 23, 2020 –Feb 24, 2021) and the geographic proclamations (up until April 8, 2021) also played a major role in limiting our ability to process immigrant visas. The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) is under enormous financial pressure as a result of an almost 50 percent drop in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.We decreased staffing at some posts based upon demand, though those changes are not irreversible. We constantly monitor staffing and demand and redistribute resources as necessary. We examine all options available as we balance resource constraints and workload. The provision of services to U.S. citizens remains our top priority, but we are directing many resources to address the IV backlog. We are employing a number of innovative solutions to assist IV processing posts, including having other missions provide remote help on everything from correspondence to document review. We are utilizing TDY staffing as resources and conditions allow. Local country conditions can affect our ability to send TDY personnel to process these cases as the safety and welfare of our staff is paramount.
12.Since consular operations are fee-based, is DOS considering an increase in certain consular fees as part of a strategy to properly staff and tackle the backlog?
Possibly, if additional resources are being requested through the formulation process, as those requirements are part of the update on unit costs. Recommendations to adjust fees are made after reviewing annual updates of the cost of service model. It is then that the Comptroller’s office initiates discussions with CA leadership for decisions on fee recommendations for consular services based on full cost recovery to adequately and appropriately fund the Consular and Border Security Program. Once additional resources or in this case, staff, are in place or have been formally requested in the formulation process, the Comptroller’s office would capture them in the annual review to ensure that those additional resources are accounted for and then make the appropriate fee recommendations.


@StateDept Revises Downward Its Consular Revenue Forecasts

Posted: 1:52 am ET


The State Department’s FY2019 Budget Proposal discusses Consular Affairs:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) supports U.S. national security objectives by protecting the interests of U.S. citizens overseas, strengthening border security, and facilitating legitimate travel to the United States. CA provides routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens overseas, adjudicates U.S. passport and visa applications, and undertakes fraud prevention and detection efforts. Together with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Intelligence Community, the Department of the Treasury, and the Law Enforcement Community, the Department has built a layered visa and border security screening system that rests on training, technological advances, biometric innovations, and expanded data sharing.

Revenue from Department-retained consular fees and surcharges funds CBSP activities. The fees and surcharges collected and retained for consular services include: Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees, Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) surcharges, Passport Security surcharges, Immigrant Visa (IV) Security surcharges, Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery fees, Fraud Prevention and Detection (H&L) fees, and Affidavit of Support (AoS) Review fees. Each consular fee or surcharge is used to fund CBSP programs and activities consistent with the applicable statutory authority.

We understand that since the beginning of FY 2013, the Consular and Border Security programs (CBSP) was completely funded using consular fees collected and retained by CA, that is, congressionally appropriated funds were not used for CA operations.

Consular Affairs charges user fees for many of the consular services it provides to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, including fees for services associated with passport issuance and non-immigrant visa processing/issuance. Congress permits the State Department to collect and retain revenue generated from certain consular fees, but the bureau is required by law to remit other amounts collected for consular fees to the Department of the Treasury. The retained consular fees are used to fund the Consular and Border Security Program (CBSP).

Consular and Border Security Programs

During FY 2014, the State Department collected $3.7 billion in consular fees. The revenue is generated primarily from the issuance of 467,370 immigrant visas and 9,932,480 nonimmigrant (temporary) visas and border cards. Note that the State Department only releases its visa issuance number and does not provide a public accounting of the total number of visa applicants. Visa processing fees are collected from all applicants (with few exceptions), and visa issuance fees are collected from certain countries based on reciprocity. (PDF)

In FY 2015, the Department collected $4.1 billion in consular fees that came from immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants including 531,463 immigrant (permanent) visas issuance and 10,891,745 nonimmigrant (temporary) visas and border cards issuance. FY2015 is the first time, nonimmigrant visa issuances hit the 10 million mark. (PDF)

We should point out that the consular revenue came from many different fees that cover a variety of services, like fraud prevention fees that are charged to particular visa applicants to fees charged to American citizens for expedited processing of passports. Consular revenue also includes surcharges that are imposed on some services. According to State/OIG, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee includes a legislatively imposed $2 surcharge to support programs to combat human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, tuberculosis, and malaria.


For the last several years until 2016, there had been an upward trend in visa demands. In 2012, the USG recognized the growth of foreign visitors from emerging economies with growing middle classes in China, Brazil and India. Then President Obama tasked the Department with increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012; and ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application (see Visa Hot Love for China and Brazil, Why No Hot Love for Mexico?).

For immigrant visas, the  issuance trend went down in FY2014, then went up in FY2015 and FY2016. In FY2017,  the issuance went down by over 58K. We don’t know at this time what function, if any, or how much, the Trump travel ban contributed to the decrease.

For nonimmigrant visas, the upward trend continued from FY2013-FY2015, then started dipping in FY2016. The decrease in number of nonimmigrant visa issuances continued in FY2017. The chart below also indicates a decrease of over 32,000 in border crossing card issuances in FY2017. To get a sense of what this means in direct U.S. dollars, check the consular fees here for visa services.

The State Department’s FY2019 Budget Proposal recognizes what could be a trend, telling Congress that “Due to new decreased revenue forecasts, the spending plans for FY 2018 have been revised downward from the FY2018 Request. Decreased spending is anticipated within the Bureau of Consular Affairs, partner bureaus, and other support activities.”

The Trump Administration has now submitted two budget proposals to Congress that include deep cuts to the State Department and USAID’s budgets. We have no reason to believe that its proposals for FY2020 and FY2021 would look anything different. But if what we’re seeing in consular workload is the start of a downward trend in revenue, the State Department could be in for a double whammy.