While the wait in India for B1/B2 interviews had climbed to almost 3 years last winter and the backlog has since been reduced through a series of steps by America, the consulate admits “there is more work to be done” in terms of expediting the process.
Apart from wait time, applicants are facing glitches in the new portal in India for scheduling non-immigrant visa interviews. A US Embassy official has told TOI attempts are being made to resolve these issues “as quickly as possible” and while regretting “any inconvenience caused by these technical difficulties.”
US missions in India have issued almost 8.8 lakh non-immigrant visas in January-June, 2023, 46% more than during the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. Among the steps to cut the backlog, Indians were last year allowed to apply at US consulates abroad like Bangkok. There is no data on how many Indian passport holders availed of this.
“India is a top priority for us. Wait times for first-time visitor visa interviews have been reduced by 70% percent since the beginning of CY 2023… continuing wait times are a challenge for many families, and we are dedicating resources, such as additional staffing or the use of remote processing options, to reduce these wait times as quickly as possible in (India). The people-to-people ties between our countries mean that we have very high demand across many visa categories,” a US Embassy official said.
The US embassy had a detailed interaction on three issues — wait time for visas; technical glitches in the new portal and student visa rush.
Visa wait times:
“In India, all non-immigrant visa categories except for first-time visitor visa applicants have interview wait times close to pre-pandemic levels or lower, and we have significantly increased the number of visas issued across the board…. Wait times for travellers who do not require an interview are very low,” the US embassy official said. US Mission India has issued over 3.3 lakh petition-based temporary employment visas since the beginning of the fiscal year, 71% more than during the same period in 2019.
“We are very excited that our team in India is on course to process well over 10 lakh visas this year, which would mark a significant milestone in our return from the toughest days of the pandemic. However, we know there is more work to be done. We are focused on helping all our posts around the world, and especially in India, get the tools, resources, and support they need to continue to bring their nonimmigrant visa wait times down,” the official added.
“We also remind applicants of the option to travel outside India for nonimmigrant visa interview appointments as they are able. In particular, our consulate in Frankfurt has set aside nonimmigrant visa interview appointments specifically for Indian applicants.”
“As in most places, many Indian nonimmigrant visa applicants meeting certain requirements, including those renewing previously expired visas in the same classification, can now apply without an interview. Wait times for travellers who do not require an interview are very low. Further, Mission India issued 334,895 petition-based temporary employment visas since the beginning of the fiscal year, 71 percent more than during the same period in pre-pandemic FY 2019. Interview wait times for temporary workers applying in New Delhi and Mumbai are under 45 days as of mid-July,” the official said.
Technical glitches in visa application portal:
“We are closely monitoring customer reports of technical issues with the website for scheduling nonimmigrant visa appointments at the US Embassy and Consulates in India… working to ensure technical issues are resolved as quickly as possible so that US visa applicants in India can reliably access the website to schedule visa interview appointments as soon as possible,” the official said.
Applicants who paid the nonimmigrant visa (NIV) application processing fee, also known as the machine-readable visa (MRV) fee, before October 1, 2022, have until September 30, 2023, to schedule their visa interviews or submit applications for an interview waiver. The interview need not occur before that date.
“Student visas (F and M) can now be issued up to 365 days in advance of the program start date. The Department of State announced this permanent change, effective January 26, 2023, to better facilitate student visa interview processing. In FY 2022, our embassy and consulates in India broke the all-time record for most student and exchange visitor visas issued in a year, issuing more than 125,000 visas. India now is the second largest origin country for US international students,” the official said. China is the largest sender of students to the US for higher education.
International students annually contribute over $32 billion and more than 3 lakh jobs to the US economy, with higher education being a top 10 service-sector export. This year the US says it is “on track to issue the most student visas in a year since FY 2016.”
“The Department of State is committed to international education, including student mobility to and from the United States. International student mobility is central to diplomacy, innovation, economic prosperity, and national security. As Secretary Blinken has said, it is a ‘foreign policy imperative.’ Facilitating the ability of foreign students and academic exchange visitors to study at US universities and colleges is a priority. There have been over 392,000 F-1, F-2, M-1, M-2, and academic J-1 and J-2 visas issued to date in FY 2023 (through June 30), and we are on track to issue the most student visas in a year since FY 2016,” the official said., adding, “We remain committed to facilitating travel for international students, whose contributions to US campuses and communities are vital for people to people ties and the US economy.”