Downed US visa system needs another week of fixes, thousands stranded

Reuters / John Kolesidis
The US State Department said that it will need another week before it can completely fix a technical issue that has taken down the US visa issuing system.

Thousands of temporary farm workers and tourists have been stranded at least since the State Department first announced a hardware problem that halted the issuing of visas since June 9.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that more than 100 experts from both public and private sectors are trying to fix the problem.

"This is a global issue and we're working around the clock to fix it," he said at a press briefing, reported Reuters. "That said, for all the hard work, don't expect the system will be on-line before next week."

The hardware failure, which has not been attributed to a cyber-security hacking attack, has affected the system that carries out security checks on visa applications, halting work at 235 consular posts. Specifically, a central database isn’t receiving biometric information that includes fingerprints from US consulates worldwide.

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During the 2014 fiscal year, the State Department issued 9.9 million non-immigrant visas for workers and tourists, with nearly half a million permanent or immigrant visas.

Temporary workers include those who work in agriculture. Thousands of farm workers have been stranded at the Mexican border and that is leading to losses of millions of dollars as fresh produce crops that remain unpicked start to rot. More than 1,000 workers are waiting to come to California to pick berries and other crops.

It’s a crisis,” said Jason Resnick of the Western Growers Association, which represents farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado, to The Packer newspaper.

Resnick said that the workers stuck in border towns are often from rural areas of Mexico and are vulnerable to victimization by criminals. Growers who use H-2A visa workers are responsible for paying for their food and lodging expenses, and the delays are causing extra expenses to growers. Resnick said the crisis is another reason lawmakers need to revisit reform for the guest worker program.