U.S. Embasssy says it has speeded up visa waiting time

The U.S. Embassy’s consular section says that it has reduced the waiting time for visa interviews and no longer are Costa Ricans on line standing outside the embassy for their appointments.

The lineup for visa-seeking Costa Ricans always has been a sore point and sometimes embarrassed U.S. citizens who could enter the embassy grounds immediately by showing their passports. There also was no provision for rain outside the consulate entrance where the Costa Ricans waited.

That has changed, and the embassy says that visitors won’t see a line this holiday season on the street in front of the consular section. The embassy posted the information on its Web site.

Embassy workers have reduced the waiting time for visa interviews to just one day, and the section has designed a more efficient appointment system to assure Costa Ricans that they need not arrive hours ahead of their appointment time, the embassy said.

Costa Ricans who seek visas to the United States have to make appointments by telephone with a call center and pay a $14 fee. Sometimes the time between the call and the appointment would be weeks.

All foreigners seeking a U.S. visa have to pay at least $140 and be interviewed in person at the embassy in Pavas. That is why long lines developed.

“There’s no value added in having people wait for a total of two or three hours, either on the street or inside the consular section, when the total process can almost always be accomplished in less than one hour” said Consul General Paul Birdsall. “We’re very happy with the progress we’ve made to improve customer service in 2010, and our goal for 2011 is to further streamline the system so that the average time from your appointment to conclusion of your business will be less than one hour.”

He was quoted on the embassy Web site.

The embassy also reported that 82 percent of the visa seekers got one in 2010. The high issuance rate shows that Costa Ricans tend to come to their visa interviews well prepared and able to demonstrate their strong economic and social bonds in Costa Rica, the embassy said.

The non-immigrant visa is designed for persons who are in the United States for short periods. The consular staff tries to make sure the applicants have a reason to return to Costa Rica.

Many visitors to the United States jump their visas, obtain jobs and otherwise act contrary to the law. Not many Costa Ricans do so, but many Hondurans, Salvadorians and Guatemalans, as well as Mexicans, cross the U.S. southern border illegally.

Costa Ricans usually find some way to mask their intentions. Financing Costa Ricans to go to the United States to work is a cottage industry in some sections of the country. In two cases, entire soccer teams of young men went to the States purportedly to play in friendship tournaments. Their real intentions were to work.

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