Business travellers and Indians planning to go to the US are likely to be impacted due to a four-day suspension of visa interviews, travel agents and overseas education consultants say. But students are unlikely to face problems, according to them. The Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) has written to the US Embassy and all airlines to help affected passengers. On Thursday, the US Embassy in New Delhi cancelled all scheduled non-immigrant visa interviews in India between June 22 and 26. The embassy said technical glitches were being faced globally and more than 100 computer experts from both the private and public sectors across the US were working on the problem. Applicants have been advised to reschedule appointments. Upon the restoration of visa services, applicants will be notified via email or SMS when the passport is ready for pick up, the embassy has said. The US Consulate in Mumbai alone processes over 1,000 applications on a daily basis. All India visa processing figures were not immediately available. "The summer holiday season has come to an end, so there will be no rush of leisure travellers. The impact of the suspension of visa interviews will be largely felt by Indians visiting friends and relatives and attending business meetings and events in the US.
We have written to the US Embassy and airlines. Airlines should consider waiving cancellation and rebooking charges from customers," said OTOAI president Guldeep Singh Sahni. "We generally advise our customers to apply a month in advance for the visa. Last minute applicants can face delays because of suspension of interviews. The US Embassy has been proactive and in the past their staff have worked even on weekends to clear peak season visa rush and we presume they will take similar measures this time," said Seemaa Makhija, managing director of Travel Voyages, a Mumbai-based firm. Over a million Indian visitors are expected to visit the US in 2015. About 900,000 tourists visited the country last year. In the 2013-2014 academic year, nearly 103,000 Indian students were enrolled in US institutions of higher education, making them the second-largest group of foreign students in the US after China, according to figures released by the US Embassy. Naveen Chopra, chairman of overseas education consultancy, The Chopras, said, "The visa interview cancellation would not have any major impact on student visas since there is reasonable time for universities to start their sessions." He added that these interviews are primarily held in August and they still have some time for that. "Visa interviews will begin in mid August. So students don't really have to worry," said Vinayak Kamat, director, Geebee Education. According to the US Embassy data released in May, 90,000 Indian students submitted visa applications in the past 12 months.