New Delhi, Washington:
The United States is “putting every ounce of its energy” into ending long visa wait times in India, including sending a cadre of consular officers to the country and opening other overseas embassies as far away Germany and Thailand for Indian visa applicants, according to a senior US visa official.
India was one of the few countries that saw a sharp increase in US visa applications after the lifting of coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
There is growing concern in India over the long waiting period for first-time visa applicants, particularly for those applying under the B1 (business) and B2 (tourism) categories. The waiting period for first-time B1/B2 visa applicants in India was close to three years in October last year.
“We are putting every ounce of our energy into eliminating the (visa) wait times in India,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, Julie Stufft told PTI in an interview.
Normalizing visa operations around the world is a top priority right now, she said.
“We are sending a cadre of consular officers to assist our staff in our embassy and consulates in India. They are working shifts during the day. They are working at weekends, mainly to conduct visitor visa interviews, which of course now is the only type of visa left for which we have long waiting periods,” she said.
The US has one of the largest visa operations in the world. “We have many different types of visas that we have to attend to in India.” Notable among them are visas for students, technology workers, immigrants moving permanently to the US, and members of the sea crew.
The US has worked through all of these except for the largest category – visitor visas requiring an interview.
Stufft said in working through those types of visas this year, the US has made a lot of progress. The wait time for interviews for work visas – such as H-1B and L1 visas – has gone from 18 months to about 60 days.
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows US companies to hire foreign workers in special occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
Indians make up a large portion of the recipients of H-1B and other work visas granted to skilled foreign workers, many in the technology industry.
India broke the record for most student visas last year and could do so again this year, she said, adding that India is now number two in the world in terms of international students at come to the United States.
“We are really, we are now focusing all our efforts on this visa for visitors and those, in particular, if you don’t need an interview, you don’t have to wait very long for a visa renewal. And that is also one part of our strategy,” she said.
As for how the pandemic has hampered his visa operations, Stufft said it was like the US shutting down their biggest machine in the world, stopping it completely. “Now we run it faster,” she said.
The State Department is putting a lot of pressure on the operations to make up for what it lost during that period, with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken taking a personal interest in reducing visa waiting times, she said.
“There’s just massive amounts of demand across the board for visa categories. And it’s our responsibility to meet that demand and offer those appointments. That’s what we’re doing now,” the State Department official said.
“We had a point where we had all these appointments available, but we had a 1,000-plus day wait time for some of them until today where we have no wait time for all but one visa category,” she said.
In one visa category, the waiting time is still over 400 days, but much less than before. He’s continuing to get better every day, but “400 days is not acceptable,” Stufft said.
According to her, the many and many consular officers who do not work permanently in India are being transferred to their various missions in India to help their staff there, “We are spending a lot of manpower to come up through this waiting time , ” she said.
Stufft said their goal this year is to reach the 120 calendar day waiting time for all visa categories.
“That’s the bottom line that we think is acceptable globally. In India, it’s a question of seeing how much demand there is and how we compress it and provide interview appointments so that the waiting time comes that’s down,” she said. said.
American consulates and embassies in and around India and abroad in Germany are giving visa appointments to Indians who can travel abroad. “We are getting better. It is moving faster and there will be a day when this will all be behind us.” “This is not for everyone. But we have opened other embassies across India so that applicants can go there if it is convenient for them to leave India briefly to have that visa application ,” she said.
“In particular, our posts in Germany, Thailand, and some others have set aside appointments for Indian applicants, just as if they were from that country,” she said.
“I understand this is not an option for everyone. But I was just checking our statistics that since October Indian visa applicants have gone to 192 of our overseas offices to apply for a visa. It’s amazing That’s almost all of our overseas offices.
“So obviously some of those applicants lived in a different region, but it was a big help for a lot of applicants to apply elsewhere,” said Stufft.
“As a result of the recent increase in interview waivers, more than 30,000 Indian applicants have benefited from this. They did not need an interview to get their visa but recently, they would have needed that interview, ” she said.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)
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