Reducing visa wait time for Indians number one priority: US


US visa officials have reiterated that India is its number one priority for reducing visa delays. The US has stated that it had issued 36 percent more visas to Indians so far this year than in pre-Covid-19 pandemic times.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs Julie Stufft said, “India is the number one priority that we are facing right now. We are absolutely committed to getting out of this situation. Anyone in India seeking a visa appointment or visa have to wait for that’s not certainly our ideal.”

Since India has been accorded the “number one priority” status, several measures to cut down the visa wait time have been initiated. Those include some unprecedented steps such as the remote processing of applications from India, sometimes visas have also been processed in Washington D.C.

The longest wait time, typically for first-time visitors, is down from over 1,000 days to about 580 days, as a result of such measures that also include interview waivers for repeat visitors, additional staffing at consular operations in Indian missions and “Super Saturdays” when mission staff process visas all day.

From summer, stateside renewal of visas will be allowed in some categories on a pilot basis. Stufft added, “So far this year, we have issued 36 percent more visas than we did before the COVID pandemic in India. And that is a huge percentage of increase and I think it will actually go up as the year goes on. It’s only February.”

Long waiting times for US visa processing post-pandemic, especially for first-time visitors, have become a key issue in the bilateral relationship and it was raised by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at the last 2+2 meeting between the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers in Washington D.C. last September 2022.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had assured him then that the US will address the issue.

Frustration over these visa delays had led many in India to ask if they were symptoms or manifestations of deeper problems in the bilateral relationship. And there was a perception that the delay was intentional.

“We are keenly aware of the public perception this has generated and created in India and in part, what we’re doing today is to try and address that misperception that somehow the US is no longer welcoming of Indian students or Indian businessman or Indian visitors writ large and this really is a systemic problem,” said Nancy Jackson, a senior official of the state department’s South and Central Asia bureau, in response to a question.

The delays were caused by the closure of the consular operations for more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

All US operations were impacted around the world. But the situation in India was the worst of all because of the sheer volume of visa applications that the US receives from Indians for all categories — from B1/B2 tourist visas to H-1B and L work visas to others.

Delays in most of these categories have been addressed to a large extent the officials said because of interview waivers for repeat visitors. Their applications are processed remotely at US missions around the world.

“Right now today we have dozens and dozens of officers around the world and here in Washington right down the street doing Indian thesis on behalf of our mission in India,” Stufft said. This frees up the consular staff in India to focus on first-time visitor interviews.

Indians are also being encouraged to apply for visas at US missions in other countries, the officials said, who acknowledged this was far from an ideal situation.
More than 100 US missions around the world have processed Indian applications.


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