The Biden administration has concluded a successful pilot project for the implementation of “paperless visas”, potentially phasing out the practice of affixing or pasting US visas onto passport pages, as per an official statement.
This experimental initiative was recently conducted on a limited scale at the United States diplomatic mission in Dublin. The administration aims to gradually introduce this paperless visa system more broadly.
Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, shared insights during a media round table organised by the Foreign Press Centre. She explained, “We did our first small-scope pilot of a paperless visa, which means that the visa process is the same, but there’s no physical visa in someone’s passport. We just piloted this for the first time, so this is not something that’s going to be happening in the next year.”
“It will take us probably 18 months to have widespread use of this, or longer. But it is very exciting that we have had this first step where we have actually seen visitors come through, and, in this case, they were immigrant visas without a physical paper in their passports,” she added.
Julie Stufft expressed enthusiasm about the prospective implementation of an app or similar technology that would enable individuals to display their visa status digitally, eliminating the need for a physical paper in their passport. She mentioned, “That will ultimately, in the future, as some other countries do, require an app or something that allows people to show their visa status without the physical paper in their passport. We are very, very excited about that.”
Addressing a query, Stufft conveyed her hope that the issuance of paperless visas will extend to Indian nationals. She stated, “I hope as soon as possible”, adding, “But this is a long-term project that we have just piloted for the first time. I think we will see widespread use of this not for another year or so, or maybe longer.”
Stufft clarified that the new paperless visa system employed by the United States differs from the concept of e-visas, particularly those issued by India.
She explained, “We don’t call it an e-visa (like India) because we have the same visa process up to the point of the paper. So an interview is still required by law. If you are a first-time applicant, you will apply in the same way with the same forms. If you are getting a paperless visa, it will look all the same until the point where there is no paper.”
She emphasised that the primary distinction lies in the absence of physical documentation. “That is the main difference between an e-visa like in India and this visa. But just the ability for people to renew their visas without a piece of paper means people can keep their passports. There will be fewer problems with sending things through the mail. It just will have tremendous benefit for both the applicant and for us,” Stufft stated.
Having successfully completed a small pilot in Dublin, the administration plans to extend the paperless visa system to various visa categories. Stufft outlined the phased expansion process, noting, “We have already done the small pilot. Now we are branching out to other types of visas. We started with our embassy in Dublin. Because there is an airport facility there with US officials who could check it before someone boarded a plane. We fully expect to expand that regionally and throughout the world. It will be piece by piece though.”
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services underscored the significant demand for US visas in India during an interview with PTI. She raised concerns regarding prolonged wait times, which can extend up to six, eight, and 12 months. Stufft emphasised that the extended delays are incongruent with the United States’ perspective on its relationship with India.