Snapshot: Consular Staffing Levels in Brazil & China — FY 2011 to 2014

Posted: 12:41 pm EDT
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Via GAO

According to State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the past hiring of additional staff through various authorities and temporary assignments of consular officers during periods of high NIV demand contributed to meeting E.O. 13597’s goals of expanding NIV processing capacity and reducing worldwide wait times, particularly at U.S. posts in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico.16

• Increase in consular officers: According to State officials, from fiscal year 2012 through 2014, State “surged” the number of consular officers deployed worldwide from 1,636 to 1,883 to help address increasing demand for NIVs, an increase of 15 percent over 3 years. In response to E.O. 13597, State increased the number of deployed consular officers between January 19, 2012 (the date of E.O. 13597), and January 19, 2013, from 50 to 111 in Brazil, and 103 to 150 in China, a 122 and 46 percent increase, respectively (see fig. 2 for additional information on consular staffing increases in Brazil and China). As a result, State met its goal of increasing its NIV processing capacity in Brazil and China by 40 percent within a year of the issuance of E.O. 13597.

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• Limited noncareer appointments: In fiscal year 2012, State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs launched the limited noncareer appointment (LNA) pilot program to quickly deploy language-qualified staff to posts facing an increase in NIV demand and workload. The first cohort of LNAs—who are hired on a temporary basis for up to 5 years for specific, time-bound purposes—included 19 Portuguese speakers for Brazil and 24 Mandarin speakers for China who were part of the increased number of consular officers deployed to posts noted above. In fiscal year 2013, State expanded the LNA program to include Spanish speakers. As of August 2015, State had hired 95 LNAs for Brazil, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico.

• Temporary assignment of consular officers: State utilizes the temporary redeployment of Foreign Service officers and LNAs to address staffing gaps and increases in NIV demand. Between October 2011 and July 2012, State assigned, on temporary duty, 220 consular officers to Brazil and 48 consular officers to China as part of its effort to reallocate resources to posts experiencing high NIV demand. State continues to use this method to respond to increases in NIV demand. For example, during the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, India experienced a surge in NIV demand that pushed NIV interview wait times over 21 days at three posts. To alleviate the situation, consular managers in India sent officers to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, which was experiencing higher wait times, from other posts, allowing the U.S. Mission in India to reduce average wait times to approximately 10 days by the end of December 2014.

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Snapshot: Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV) Forecast Through Fiscal Year 2019-18 Million

Posted: 12:56 am EDT
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Via GAO:

Since 2012, the Department of State (State) has undertaken several efforts to increase nonimmigrant visa (NIV) processing capacity and decrease applicant interview wait times. Specifically, it has increased consular staffing levels and implemented policy and management changes, such as contracting out administrative support services. According to State officials, these efforts have allowed State to meet the goals of Executive Order (E.O.) 13597 of increasing its NIV processing capacity by 40 percent in Brazil and China within 1 year and ensuring that 80 percent of worldwide NIV applicants are able to schedule an interview within 3 weeks of State receiving their application. Specifically, State increased the number of consular officers in Brazil and China by 122 and 46 percent, respectively, within a year of the issuance of E.O. 13597. Additionally, according to State data, since July 2012, at least 80 percent of worldwide applicants seeking a tourist visa have been able to schedule an interview within 3 weeks.

Two key challenges—rising NIV demand and problems with NIV information technology (IT) systems—could affect State’s ability to sustain the lower NIV interview wait times. First, State projects the number of NIV applicants to rise worldwide from 12.4 million in fiscal year 2014 to 18.0 million in fiscal year 2019, an increase of 45 percent (see figure).

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Given this projected NIV demand and budgetary limits on State’s ability to hire more consular officers at posts, State must find ways to achieve additional NIV processing efficiencies or risk being unable to meet the goals of E.O. 13597 in the future. Though State’s evaluation policy stresses that it is important for bureaus to evaluate management processes to improve their effectiveness and inform planning, State has not evaluated the relative effectiveness of its various efforts to improve NIV processing. Without conducting a systematic evaluation, State cannot determine which of its efforts have had the greatest impact on NIV processing efficiency. Second, consular officers in focus groups expressed concern about their ability to efficiently conduct adjudications given State’s current IT systems. While State is currently enhancing its IT systems, it does not systematically collect information on end user (i.e., consular officer) satisfaction to help plan and guide its improvements, as leading practices would recommend. Without this information, it is unclear if these enhancements will address consular officers’ concerns, such as having to enter the same data multiple times, and enable them to achieve increased NIV processing efficiency in the future.

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