US visa applications from Kenya
The US Embassy in Nairobi introduced new changes to its visa application process from the country to address its massive system backlog. Source: Andrew Harnik /Pool/AFP

Good news for America-bound Kenyan students — you won’t have to suffer interminable wait times any longer for your US visa applications.

In an announcement made last week, the US Embassy in Nairobi expressed its commitment to address the wearisome application backlogs faced by Kenyans after numerous complaints. Dissatisfied clients reported waiting for more than a year just to proceed with their application, as the dates for visitor visa appointments weren’t available until June 2024, according to Nation Africa.    

“The visa backlog situation has caused unnecessary hardship and is unacceptable. One of my top goals is to address this problem as quickly as possible,” Meg Whitman, US Ambassador to Kenya, wrote on her Twitter account. “Strong people-to-people ties are the bedrock of our relationship.”  

The woes of Kenyans with their US visa applications spared no one, including high-level athletes. Last month, track and field superstar Ferdinand Omanyala — Africa’s fastest man alive — nearly missed out on the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. A delay in visa approval meant that he could only arrive hours before his first race when other competitors had days to settle in and prepare for the event.

The journey hasn’t been smooth sailing for Kenyan students as well in their US visa applications. The estimated wait time listed for an F-1 visa appointment in Nairobi currently stands at 442 days according to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. Unprocessed applications accumulated throughout the pandemic meant that students had to forgo opportunities since their visas couldn’t arrive on time.

“It is a huge crisis for us because we have so many bright students who have already been admitted to universities in the US,” Dennis Kiogora, founder of the Kenya Airlift Programme, told the Washington Post. The programme is an initiative that connects Kenyan postgraduate students to universities across the US. 

Kiogora explained that most of his students weren’t able to secure the necessary travel documents ahead of the September start date. A participant had said that even with the delays, starting in the Spring term would have been out of the question as his sponsors had withdrawn funding for his studies due to visa-related problems, the news site reports. 

US visa applications from Kenya

Kenyan students whose classes start in less than 30 days in the US may get an expedited appointment at the US Embassy in Nairobi. Source: Simon Maina/AFP

New changes to US visa applications from Nairobi 

The embassy’s pledge to expedite US visa applications in Kenya came with several changes to the entire process. Last month, new updates were added to keep applicants in the loop about their status, which included a feature to view interview wait times that are regularly updated on the Embassy’s website, Nation Africa reports. 

Additionally, the site will clearly indicate the type of non-refundable fees for greater transparency so Kenyans can make informed decisions before proceeding with their payment. The issue of non-refundable fees has been another sore topic for Kenyans in their endless hurdles of securing an American visa. 

On July 15, Kenyan medical doctor Elizabeth Amakove Wala penned an open letter to Ambassador Whitman airing her frustration with the current visa delays, which went viral on the social media platform. Her daughter had qualified for the prestigious World Scholar’s Cup competition at Yale University, which will take place in November, but Wala fears that her visa won’t be issued before the competition date. She had paid 38,400 Kenyan shilling (around US$322) in processing fees.

As for post-secondary students applying under the F category, in-person interviews will be waived in visa renewals if their previous document had expired in under a year. Most importantly, the embassy will now grant expedited appointments for emergency cases, such as the death of an immediate family member, travelling for urgent medical care, and for students whose programmes begin in 30 days who are at risk of losing their scholarships if they cannot travel on time. 

If you’re planning to submit a US visa application from Nairobi anytime soon, click here for all the latest updates from the embassy.