Visa wait times of over 2 years are keeping Indian travelers out of the US

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(CNN) – Chaitali Aggarwal has long wanted to visit New York from her home in the Indian capital, New Delhi. And so in 2020, she applied for a tourist visa for herself and her father.

Two years later, they are still waiting.

Of course, as with all vaults, Covid-19 got in the way. But while travel has largely resumed as the pandemic recedes, Aggarwal still faces a bureaucratic mountain range in the way of his American dream.

She is not the only one.

Many Indians who hope to head to the United States for vacation or to see family are facing huge delays in the interviews necessary to grant a visa. The issue is also affecting visitors from other countries.

That means that one of the biggest sources of tourism to the United States is severely curtailed, which could cost the country millions of dollars in revenue.

“We will make any appointment, any time,” says Aggarwal. “But I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”

Back in 2020, Aggarwal hired an agent to help navigate the complicated US tourist visa process. She received visa interview appointments but these were canceled due to the pandemic. Now, due to changed circumstances, she had to start the process all over again.

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And, having already blown 14,000 rupees ($171) in fees and payments to the third-party agent, she must decide if she can afford to do it again.

To obtain a business or tourist visa, an Indian citizen must submit information about the purpose of their visit, proof that they can support themselves financially while in the US, work history and educational background, details of living relatives in the USA and a complete itinerary.

The last step of the visa process is an in-person interview — if you can get one.

According to the US State Department, the wait time in early December for one of these interviews at the American Embassy in New Delhi was 936 calendar days, including weekends and holidays. In Hyderabad, it was 780. In Mumbai, it is 999.

A State Department representative told CNN Travel that initiatives are underway to expedite visa interview processes, including onboarding new hires and “hiring eligible family members of our diplomatic staff to fill consular positions overseas and in the States United.”

They acknowledged that there were still difficulties to be overcome but said that the Department was also increasing its interview waiver process for some temporary workers, students and academic exchange visitors. They said global visa processing should reach or exceed pre-pandemic levels by 2023.

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“While we have made great progress in recovering from pandemic-related closures and staffing challenges, we are still working to respond to the significant demand for visa services,” the representative said.

“We recognize that some applicants may still face extended visa wait times. We are committed to reducing wait times as quickly as possible, recognizing the critical role international travel plays in the US economy and the importance of to reunite families.”

Critics say these measures are not enough. And it’s not just travelers like Aggarwal who are feeling the impact, but US businesses as well.

The United States Travel Association, a tourism industry body, commissioned a study looking at three of the largest inbound travel markets in the US – Brazil, India and Mexico – and the financial and reputational damage associated with the loss of tourists.

USTA president and CEO Geoff Freeman says the most significant impact of these delays could be that travelers fall in love with another destination and decide that the United States isn’t worth it — ever.

“The visitor who blocks you today is also the visitor who chooses not to come tomorrow,” he says.

That means significant lost income. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, part of the US Department of Commerce, India was the country’s 10th largest tourist market in 2019 – but the fifth largest spender.

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A USTA study estimates that the US could have $1.6 billion in tourism revenue from Indian tourists choosing to go elsewhere in 2023.

The situation is made more precarious by the fact that many insurers do not cover travel affected by visa issues.

“Your travel insurance provider is unlikely to cover your canceled trip if you haven’t received your travel visa,” says Jeff Rolander, vice president of claims at Faye Travel Insurance.

“Unfortunately, even if requested on time and delayed or not requested on time, this will be counted as a necessary document to enter your destination, making it impossible for a supplier to protection from cancellation costs if you did not have this at your destination. the fixed departure date of the trip.”

USTA’s Freeman doubts things will change anytime soon, despite official promises.

“So far, we have not seen the desire of the State Department to tackle this issue,” he said.

Aggarwal, who changed her original plans and visited Canada this summer, is trying to decide whether she can afford to restart her US tourist visa application, financially or emotionally.

She has not given up on the fantasy of visiting the Big Apple, however.

“I really want to travel. New York is very high on my travel list. But the list is so long.”

Photo: Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Image by Getty.

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