US has started new initiatives with the goal of reducing delays in visa processing in India, including arranging special interviews for first-time applicants and shoring up consular staff.
The US embassy in Delhi and the consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Hyderabad held “special Saturday interview days” on January 21 as part of a multi-pronged effort to reduce the visa backlog.
According to a statement released by the US embassy on Sunday, “on January 21, the US mission in India launched the first of a series of special Saturday interview days, as part of a larger effort to reduce wait times for first-time visa applicants.”
The statement read, “The United States Embassy in New Delhi and Consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Hyderabad all opened consular operations on Saturday to accommodate applicants who require in-person visa interviews.”
In the upcoming months, the mission will keep making “additional slots” available for appointments to take place on specific Saturdays. According to the statement, “These additional interview days are just one component of a multi-pronged initiative to address the backlog in visa processing caused by COVID-19.”
It claimed that for applicants with prior US visas, the US State Department has established remote processing of interview waiver cases. It added that to improve the capacity for processing visas, dozens of temporary consular officers from Washington and other embassies will travel to India between January and March 2023.
More than 2,50,000 extra B1/B2 appointments were made available by the US mission in India. B-2 is a tourist visa, whereas B1 is a business visa. The mission reported that in order to accommodate more appointments, the consulate general in Mumbai also extended office hours during the week.
According to the embassy, “by this summer, the US mission in India will be at full staffing, and we expect to be processing visas at levels prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The mission to India has made it a priority to enable legal travel since travel restrictions have been relaxed, according to the statement, and will adjudicate over 8,00,000 non-immigrant visas in 2022, including a record number of student and job visas.
Interview wait times in India are “at pre-pandemic levels or lower” for every other category of visa, it stated. The embassy said that the Consulate General in Mumbai today handles the majority of visa decisions in India and runs one of the largest visa operations worldwide.
According to Mumbai Consular Chief John Ballard, “Our consular teams across India are putting in the extra hours to meet the needs of international travellers and bring down wait times. This is part of a Mission wide effort to find innovative solutions to facilitate travel to the United States.”
India currently has the third-highest position in terms of the overall number of visas issued by the US, behind China and Mexico. However, an official predicted that India would overtake the top spot by next summer, adding that Washington gave India high priority in this area.
Business and tourist visa applications were particularly hard-hit by the visa delays. Student visas and other urgent visas have priority, according to the US mission.
Anyone seeking a visa receives an appointment for an in-person interview at least a year later, according to a source familiar with the challenges. The new initiatives are a component of a larger strategy to speed up the processing of visa applications, which slowed down during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Melinda Pavek, the US consul general in Kolkata, advised students in a November conversation that, in order to speed up the visa application process, they should submit their applications through places with more visa officers than Kolkata.
With only three officers, the consulate in Kolkata claimed to have the smallest visa unit out of all the consulates in India. At a US visa information outreach workshop in November, Pavek urged students to think about applying for visas in other cities. The majority of Indian visas are currently issued by the US consulate general in Mumbai.