The United States has launched a multifaceted initiative, including scheduling special visa interviews on Saturdays and deploying multiple temporary staff, to address the backlog in visa processing caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The US embassy in New Delhi and the consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad organized the first in a series of special interview days on Saturday, as part of a larger effort to reduce waiting times for first-time visa applicants, on 21 January. .
These interview days are for applicants who require in-person visa interviews. “In the coming months, the mission will continue to open additional slots for appointments on selected Saturdays,” the US embassy said in a statement.
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The US state department has already implemented remote processing of interview waiver cases for applicants who previously held US visas. Such applicants are no longer required to appear for a personal interview.
“Between January and March 2023, dozens of temporary consular officers will arrive from Washington and other Indian embassies to increase processing capacity,” the statement said.
The State Department is also increasing the number of consular officers permanently assigned to the embassy and consulates in India.
The US mission also issued more than 250,000 additional B1 and B2 visa appointments. The consulate in Mumbai has extended its operating hours during the week to accommodate additional appointments.
By summer, the US mission will be “fully staffed, and we expect visa processing to be at pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels”, the statement said.
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The US is targeting student visas first and addressing the backlog. After more than 82,000 visas were issued to Indian students in 2022, the focus shifted to reducing the waiting periods for non-immigrant work visas, such as the H and L categories, including the H-1B visas popular, B-1 business visa, B-2 tourist visa, and visas for shipping company and airline crews.
The United States expects applications for all types of visas in India to increase to about 100,000 per month – or about 1.2 million per year – in 2023, making India the second largest country for visa operations after China.
The statement said the pandemic has led to “significant reductions” in the state department’s visa processing capacity. As travel restrictions are lifted, the US mission in India will process more than 800,000 non-immigrant visas in 2022, including student and employment visas. “In all other visa categories, interview wait times in India are at or below pre-pandemic levels,” the statement said.