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'American dream': US visas for Indians now come through China

The US administration has waived the in-person interviews requirement whenever possible to reduce the wait time for visa clearances

US Visa

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Asit Ranjan Mishra

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Every day, the American dream of hundreds of Indians is turning into reality at an unlikely place: China.

Due to the huge pile up of visa applications, the US consular officers in the neighbouring country are now adjudicating Indian visa applications where interview requirements have been waived.

This revelation came when India, during the latest Trade Policy Review of the US at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), asked about the steps the US administration is taking to address the situation that has worsened after the pandemic.

“The current slow pace of visa appointments in many countries sometimes running into multiple-year wait times i.e. around 900 days for applicants in India. The delay is not only affecting labour mobility but also coming in the way of fulfilling export order commitments both in goods and services,” India complained.

Admitting the delay, the US side said it is using “innovative technological solutions” to electronically redistribute non-immigrant visa interview waiver workloads from overseas posts with high visa appointment wait times to other posts with additional capacity.

“Each day, for example, US consular officers in China remotely adjudicate hundreds of interview-waived non-immigrant visas for applicants in India where there are longer interview appointment wait times. This allows our consular officers to focus on first-time and other visa applicants who do require an in-person interview,” the US side said.

The US administration has waived the in-person interviews requirement whenever possible to reduce the wait time for visa clearances.

“The State Department has worked in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security to expand authorities which allow us to waive the in-person interview for many students, applicants renewing prior visas, and other low risk travellers,” it said.

The US side said it has also expanded its staffing worldwide by on-boarding and training new employees.

“This past fiscal year, the State Department has doubled its hiring of U.S. direct hire consular adjudicators over the previous year, and newly trained employees are now making their way to overseas posts. While it takes time to hire, train, and deploy these personnel, State is on track to fill all the overseas visa adjudicator positions that were impacted by the pandemic by next September,” it added.

In a statement in January, the US embassy in India had said the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in profound reductions in the Department’s visa processing capacity, and many of its embassies and consulates were at times only able to offer emergency services. 

However, the embassy said it has extended its working hours during week days and has launched special Saturday interviews to clear the backlog.

“Between January and March 2023, dozens of temporary consular officers from Washington and other embassies will arrive in India to increase processing capacity. By this summer, the U.S. Mission in India will be at full staffing, and we expect to be processing visas at levels from prior to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the embassy said.

Replying to a question in the Lok Sabha on the delay in the US visa appointments, the Ministry of External Affairs last month said it was aware of challenges faced by Indian students in obtaining visas for the USA in the last two years, particularly in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The matter has been taken up at high levels with the U.S. Government, including at Ministerial meetings. Grant of visa is the sovereign decision and prerogative of a foreign government, acting through their Missions, based on their procedures,” it added.

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First Published: Mar 30 2023 | 8:14 PM IST

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