UPDATE: The Department of State Visa Office confirmed that the Bureau of Consular Affairs is in the process of resolving these technical problems with the visa processing systems. They confirmed that processing has not been fully restored but that their experts are continuing to focus on this issue and are working to fully resolve it as quickly as possible.
According to AILA, “It is important to note that, while this is a worldwide issue, the problem only delays visa issuances for about 15-20 percent of applicants who have been approved for visas. The majority of approved visas are being issued without technical errors. In addition, while the CEAC system will show these cases as being in “Administrative Processing,” this simply means that the cases are pending and does not denote that any further review is required.”
Certain consulates around the world are experiencing technical issues with their visa systems, resulting in visa delays and passport issuance. For instance, according to the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe, “The U.S. Department of State is currently experiencing technical problems with its visa system, which are affecting global operations. This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country or visa category.”
Some U.S. consular posts may prescribe certain follow-up procedures in the event that visa applicants are concerned about not getting their passports back in time for previously arranged travel. Other consular posts may not provide any specific guidance, such as the U.S. Embassy in Singapore, which just states, “We apologize for the inconvenience and are working urgently to correct the problem and restore full operability. Please expect delays in receiving your passports.” If visa applicants need their passports back on an urgent basis, they can try to contact the consular post and ask for the return of their passport without the new U.S. visa placed inside; this is the procedure suggested by the Embassy in Zimbabwe, for example. Please be advised that during a similar database issue in 2015, the State Department confirmed that when a passport is returned in this scenario, it does constitute a Section 221(g) refusal of a visa application, which must be disclosed on future visa and ESTA applications (if eligible for ESTA), and that while such a refusal should not preclude ESTA travel when appropriate in the future, it is up to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to review the situation when adjudicating a future ESTA application; the same logic and implications can be expected to apply to this scenario as well. As of right now, there is no confirmation as to when this issue will be resolved.