Visa backlog at US embassy in UAE as priority given to students

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - People in the UAE looking to travel to the US have reported longer waits for appointments to have their visas extended or processed.

As US missions in the UAE return to processing applications at pre-coronavirus levels, priority is being given to students hoping to study at American universities.

For others, appointments for all visa services will not be available until November.

“Due to the ongoing pandemic, routine visa processing is reduced around the world,” a US embassy representative told The National.

“The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Consulate General in continue to operate at reduced capacity at this time, focusing on only the most urgent cases and critical.

“We are hopeful that in the coming weeks, we will have more visa appointments available, with a focus on student visas to enable travel to the United States before the start of the academic year,” the representative said.

Several applicants who tried to renew their visas or secure new ones told The National their appointments had been put on hold until further notice.

We are hopeful that in the coming weeks, we will have more visa appointments available, with a focus on student visas to enable travel to the United States before the start of the academic year

US Embassy in the UAE

One resident said the earliest available appointment he could get was late November in Abu Dhabi and December 20 in Dubai.

Mohammad Oudeh, a financial analyst from Jordan, tried to renew his US visa after travelling to the UAE in January.

He was given an interview appointment in March but this was cancelled by the embassy when coronavirus cases in the UAE began to increase.

“They said I can use the fee I paid for the interview to reschedule within one year,” said Mr Oudeh, 35.

He was told he would receive a new appointment within one or two weeks, but consular services were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

“But now it has taken months, and they have not emailed me a notice until now.

“This [visa suspension] has changed a lot of things in my life.

“I am newly wed to my wife, who is American and lives and works in the US. Our initial plan was that she stays there and I stay here and we visit each other frequently," said Mr Oudeh, who married in December.

“But with all the travel restrictions we couldn’t do that any more, so we decided that she would end all her affairs in the US and move to live with me in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

“She will be arriving after tomorrow.”

Imad Kandeel, an athlete from Jordan, has been waiting months to get an appointment with the US Embassy in the UAE to apply for a visa. Courtesy: Imad Kandeel

Imad Kandeel, an athlete from Jordan, said he tried to apply for a US visa two months ago.

“I got terminated from my job recently, so I thought of opening my own gym,” he said.

“In the US they usually hold bazaars to sell gym equipment and I could get good deals.”

Mr Kandeel, 41, wanted to attend the Cross Fit Open in the US last month.

“After the championship, they usually sell the tools that were used in an auction so I thought I’ll attend as a spectator to enjoy the show and then make bids in the auction.”

However, visa services were still closed at the time and he has not decided whether to apply again for an appointment later this year.

“Who knows what will happen? The championship ended up being held virtually and the next one is scheduled in December – for now.”

Students have had better luck booking earlier appointments in September, and some even during the first week of August.

Ananya Singhal, a first-year undergraduate from India who attends the University of Pennsylvania, said she made an appointment on September 14.

“I requested an earlier interview but they said we are still closed and we’ll get back to you,” she said.

“I have a friend in Dubai who got an interview during the first week of August.”

Miss Singhal, 17, who is majoring in computer science, said she will attend the autumn semester virtually and hopes to travel to the US in spring.

“They are doing a hybrid format, so most classes especially large classes are taken online, but they are allowing students to go on campus for classes of less than 25.”

“Since April I have connected with a lot of people, and all the sophomores I spoke to who did spring [semester] online said the academic life was not much different.”

Miss Singhal said she was keen on joining the university.

“I think since May the whole situation in US has been very scary, but just because I love the University of Pennsylvania so much I am willing to go there just for that university.”

Updated: July 27, 2020 10:08 PM

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