The United States has taken alot of steps including increasing the number of officials issuing visas and opening other diplomatic missions to process these applications. Applications for US visa saw a major spike in India after coronavirus related travelling restrictions were lifted.
There have been a growing concerns in India over the long waiting period for first time visa applicants, especially for those applying under B1 (business) and B2 (tourist) categories. The waiting period of first time B1/B2 visa applicants in India was close to 1,000 days in October last year.
While the wait times in Mumbai (332 days) and Kolkata (357 days) have dropped below a year, applicants opting for Chennai may still need to wait for almost two years, 680 days to be exact, for their B1/B2 visa appointments.
The US Embassy at New Delhi has the shortest wait for tourist and business visa appointments – 247 days.
In an interview, Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services said that the goal of the State Department is to get to 1 million visas issued this year, which would be above the pre-pandemic number.”We have increased the number of officers going to India. We have set up arrangements, which is unprecedented, with other embassies in the world like Bangkok to take Indians who are seeking visas. We are opening a new consulate in Hyderabad… and we’re just focused on making sure that we can bring the wait time down in India,” she said.She also noted that London, Frankfurt and Abu Dhabi have taken a lot of visa seeking Indian citizens. We have asked these missions to take Indians as if they were from their own host country. Especially in places like Bangkok where there is no visa required for Indians and it is a relatively short flight, she said.
“Obviously this is not ideal. We want Indians to be able to apply in India, and that’s where we’ll get to,” she said.
“As a result of all of these efforts, the visitor visa interview wait time has decreased by 60 per cent just in the last couple of months. This is a result of all the work that we’ve put into making sure that Indians who wish to travel to the US can do so.”
Stufft said that currently, “visa production in India is 40 per cent higher than it was before the pandemic” and asserted that the State Department was working hard to bring down the wait time.
“Our team there is working very hard and they’re well on their way to accomplishing the 1 million visa goal,” Stufft said.
The State Department official also said that they are working on other types of visas including, student visas.
US recently expanded interview waivers for Indians, meaning that only some individuals need to go the consulate for an interview. This has made it possible for people who don’t need an interview, those who have travelled to the US before, to get their visa in a record time of less than two weeks.
“It really is a global effort. Because we have such strong ties with India and the relationship between our two countries means that the categories of visas are the highest in India.. students, tech workers, and crew members. It’s a high cultural, educational and work relationship between our countries,” Stufft said.
“But make your appointment, find the place that you can go in India or outside of India where it’s possible. And bear with us as we bring these wait times down. We’re very excited to be hitting records every month with the number of visas that we’re issuing in India,” she said.
The United States is also planning to launch a pilot project on domestic renewal of visas. Under this project, Indians living in the United States will be able to get their visas renewed without leaving US.
“That’s very exciting for all of us. It will take time. We’re building up that operation from zero. That’s something that we have not done for several decades at this point. This will have big benefits for Indians who are living and working in America,” she added.
Currently, more than 100 US diplomatic missions have been issuing visas to Indians.