Little reprieve for SA travellers as long wait for visas persists – with the US, UK most delayed

  • South Africans looking to travel abroad are still faced with a long wait to get a visa.
  • Visa appointment slots and processing times have surged since travel resumed.
  • You’re unlikely to get a visa appointment for US travel before February 2023.
  • And without a Super Priority Visa appointment for travel to the UK, you’re facing a two-month wait for processing, according to Rennies BCD Travel.

South Africans hoping to travel abroad are still faced with delays affecting visa appointments and processing times. The wait is especially long for those eyeing the United Kingdom and United States.

International travel has rebounded in the wake of pandemic-induced restrictions, which closed borders, suspended flights, and enforced quarantine. This rebound has been most noticeable in Europe, where summer holidaymakers encountered chaos at understaffed and ill-prepared airports.

It’s not just international airports and airlines which have been overwhelmed by this resurgence, made worse by mass job cuts during the height of the pandemic, yet to be filled, embassies and consulates are also struggling.

At the start of the year, VFS Global, the world’s largest visa outsourcing firm, warned of longer waiting times and limited appointment slots. These delays were the result of a backlog of applications, coupled with the travel resurgence and short-staffed embassies.

The situation hasn’t got much better since then, with both the US warning “that it may take several months to schedule an interview appointment” and the UK High Commission in Pretoria confirming persistent “longer processing times” in May.

See also | SA won’t see as many tourists this summer as before Covid – but those coming will be rich

Appointment slots were still limited, and processing times severely delayed, at the start of August, according to corporate and online travel management company Rennies BCD Travel.

At the time, Rennies BCD Travel reported that “visa availability continues to be a struggle for travellers.” Travellers were warned of a two-week wait for appointments to travel to Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, and Italy. Processing times ranged from two to five weeks. And these countries had some of the shortest waiting periods.

Visa appointments for travel to the US only opened in February 2023 in Cape Town and May in Johannesburg. A reprieve was, however, offered to those who’d previously had a US visa that expired in the last 48 months. These travellers could be granted an “appointment waiver”.

visa delays South Africa

Visa timetable published by Rennies BCD Travel on 2 September.

The latest update from Rennies BCD Travel at the start of September showed that not much had changed. Appointment slots for a US visa only opened in 2023 – as confirmed by the US department of consular affairs – although the processing times had halved.

The long wait for a visa to the UK also remains unchanged, with the exception of Super Priority Visa (SPV) appointments, which have a much quicker turnaround time, but also come at a massively inflated cost. These SPV appointment slots are also limited according to Rennies BCD Travel, with regular processing times of at least eight weeks.

See also | Home affairs has dropped central adjudication of visas, after months of complaints

While visa appointments and processing times for travel to the US and UK are more delayed than most, timeframes for visits to some other countries have also been extended.

The processing time for a New Zealand visa, for example, was estimated to be between three to five weeks a month ago. That wait has now doubled to 10 weeks, according to Rennies BCD Travel, with a wait of up to three weeks just to get an appointment.

Similarly, the processing time for a visa for Canada was at least 10 weeks a month ago and was recently extended to a maximum of 12 weeks.