India on priority: How the US plans to issue 1 lakh visas to Indian applicants every month
With India expressing serious concern over the long wait for a US visa, its embassy in New Delhi on Thursday said on Thursday the waiting period for issuance of visas is expected to see a significant fall by the summer of 2023 and the number is projected to reach around 1.2 million. The plan is to issue around one lakh visas every month. “India is the number one priority for Washington (for issuance of visas). Our aim is to bring the situation to the pre-COVID-19 level by the middle of next year,” the embassy official said in New Delhi.
India has been one of the very few countries where applications for US visas saw a major upswing after Coronavirus-related travel restrictions were lifted and even visa process waiting day’s gone up to more than 800 days. Considering the long wait time for the grant of visas, the US is also rolling out a series of initiatives including the hiring of more personnel and increasing the “drop box” facilities, the official said.
The official said the US has already identified H (H1B) and L category visas for Indians as its priority and nearly 1,00,000 slots were released recently for those wanting to renew the visas. The wait time for certain categories has already been brought down to around nine months from earlier 450 days. The official said the wait time for B1, and B2 (business and tourism) visas are also being brought down from around nine months.
The embassy official also said India is expected to move to the number two place from the current number three in terms of the number of visas being issued by the US. Currently, Mexico and China are ahead of India. The official said the priority is also being accorded to cutting the waiting time for the students’ visas, especially for those looking for a renewal of their visas. The process used to apply for renewal of a US visa without a visa interview is known as the drop box facility.
Broadly, the applicants having a US visa within a span of the last four years are eligible for the drop box facility. The US issued around 82,000 visas in the last one year. “We are looking at 1.1 to 1.2 million visas to Indians by next summer,” said the US embassy official.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for issuing visas. Due to Covid affecting visa operations and revenues, the bureau had to right size. Once visa applications, including from India, registered a huge jump, it has been working to increase staffing.
The onboarding, training, and deployment of the staff overseas will take some more time because “government bounces back slower” and staffing in India is expected to be at 100% by summer 2023, the official said. The US is also resorting to steps such as using temporary workers and sending Indian applications to remote locations for processing, especially for those using the drop box facility.
Though the US State Department’s website for visa appointment wait time shows first-time applicants in New Delhi for B-1 and B-2 visas face a wait time of 925 days, the official indicated that the actual time would be less.
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