Indians holding H-1B visas in the US are facing hurdles in planning international trips or visiting their family back in India. This is because they need a valid stamp on their passports before they travel back to the US.
Individuals who are eligible for interview waivers are also experiencing delays in just getting dates at the US embassy and consulates.
Other than the issue of unavailability of dates for visa interviews or painstaking time is taken for submitting documents where interviews are being waived off, there is an added risk of administrative delays or security checks that could further delay the processing time of H-1B visas.
Shalini Kumar (name changed) shares the excruciating experience. She is an employee of an IT firm situated in Texas and has been an H-1B visa holder for eight years. Since the pandemic, Kumar hasn’t visited her parents in Bengaluru and is now trying to surpass the challenge to get a drop box appointment as she needs to get a visa stamp before she goes back to the US after her visit.
The reality, however, is there are no dates available for the next few months and so she cannot plan the trip. Kumar’s situation gets complicated because her son, who is on H4 dependent visa, is now above 14 years old and is not eligible for a visa interview waiver. If Kumar had an interview waiver and is unable to get the procedures done on time, one can only imagine getting an interview date for him is much more strenuous. There are still no dates available on the online booking system. Kumar doesn’t know when she will finally be able to meet her parents again.
Immigration lawyer Poorva Chithani elucidates this procedure. “Even for drop-box applications, in case of visa interview waivers, H-1B visa holders who travel to India, need appointments to drop off the paperwork. Appointments are not readily available. Before travelling to India, they should, in fact, check for appointments frequently so that they can book one when dates do become available. More appointments are likely to become available in the ensuing weeks and especially in August-September 2022 and onwards,” she said.
At present, several non-immigration visa applicants applying for US visas may be eligible for interview waivers only if they meet certain criteria.
However, these waivers apply to temporary workers who need H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, or Q visas subject to certain conditions, and also provided they are applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.
These waivers also apply to qualifying students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). But it is mandatory even for those applicants who qualify for interview waivers to require drop box appointments and before getting these appointments they cannot travel to India.
“The ongoing visa interview waivers are going to be available through the end of 2022 and are expected to reduce visa wait times significantly. Applicants who need to renew a visa in the same category as a visa that expired within 12 months prior to the new visa application date have been eligible for interview waivers (subject to certain conditions) even in the past. The big difference now is that the applicant can apply for a new visa category and must have held any valid non-immigrant visa within the past 48 months,” Chothani said.
According to Chotani, since drop-box appointments are not readily available at the diplomatic posts in India, an applicant can only repeatedly check for the appointments, and this could defeat ‘reducing visa wait times’ which was the primary objective for this new waiver criteria. However, the good news is that things are improving – consular officers in India have promised incremental appointments in the forthcoming weeks but more so from July 2022 onwards
“My advice to H-1B visa holders who are planning to travel to India, and need a visa stamp, is not to travel unless they have a firm appointment in the near future, because appointments that are issued for a date several weeks away are likely to be cancelled,” Chothani said.