Australians wanting to travel to the United States are suffering delays to visa processing as US consulates across the globe struggle to overcome a systems outage which caused a backlog of visa and passport applications.
On July 20, systems administrators at the State Bureau of Consular Affairs performed a software update to the Oracle-based US consular consolidated database (CCD) - in line with Oracle recommendations - which resulted in the system going down for three days.
The bureau was able to bring the system back online on July 23 but only in a limited capacity, and said it expected it would be weeks before the system was operating as normal.
It advised that it has not yet identified the root cause on the problem, which it suspects is a "combination of software optimisation and hardware compatibility" issues. The agency is bringing additional servers online to increase capacity and response time.
"The upgrade affected our current processing capability, in part because it interfered with the smooth interoperability of redundant nodes," the department advised in a notice.
It plans to upgrade the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle database by the end of the calendar year.
The issue has affected US consulates the world over and resulted in applicants being unable to obtain visas, passports or consular reports of birth abroad.
As the system is operating at around 50 percent of its normal capacity, visa applications for non-immigrant visas could take an extra 14 days to process.
US consulates across Australia have notified travellers to expect delays with the processing of passports and visas, but said they were currently unable to predict just how long they would be.
"We recognise and deeply regret the inconvenience to travellers. We are doing everything possible to return passports with visas as soon as we are able to complete processing."
Applicants who interviewed with a US consulate after July 21 are able to request to have their passport returned to them without the US visa, travellers have been informed.
Those with an urgent need to travel to the US can submit a request to do so, but the US Embassy warned only "true emergencies of an extraordinary humanitarian nature" would be considered.
People with previously-issued valid visas are not affected, nor is anyone travelling under the US visa waiver program.
The CCD has been described as "one of the world's largest Oracle-based data warehouses".
It stores hundreds of millions of visa files and links to other critical US systems including the FBI's integrated automated fingerprint identification system, Homeland Security's automated biometric identification system, and the State department's facial recognition system, among others.
The US Consular Affairs Bureau issued 9.1 million non-immigrant visas, 12 million passports, and half a million immigrant visas through the system in 2013.
The US State Department said while it regretted the delays, it would not reimburse those affected for missed flights or other costs related to the systems issues.