On Wednesday, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar raised the issue of visa applications backlog with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the US. In response he said he’s ‘extremely sensitive’ to the issue and that they are facing a similar situation around the world as the challenge is raised due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said that the US has a plan to address the backlog of visa applications from India. “I think you’ll see that play out in the coming months, but it’s something that we’re very focused on,” said Blinken.
As of now, Indian visa applicants have to wait at least two years to get a visa appointment. According to a US government website, there’s an appointment wait time of 833 years for applications from Delhi and 848 days from Mumbai for visitor visas.
Because the US is the prime location for many on their travel list, the wait seems to be disappointing. Many travelers across India struggle to get appointment dates.
26-year-old Prathibha Padmanabhan from Vellur needs an education visa. She says despite securing admission to one of the reputed institutions in Cambridge, she isn’t getting a date. “My institution has given the recommendation letter which can at least push the application for next year’s July intake. I was supposed to go to start my term in September this year. There are no dates. I have got the date for next year in January,” says Prathibha who applied for a visa from Mumbai since the waiting list from Chennai is longer.
Pune-resident Madhurima Dey intends to go to the US this year with her to-be spouse who is an I140 holder and had also got his H1B visa extended for three years in July this year, however, he is not getting dates for visa stamping and so as Madhurima for her H4 visa. “We are not getting any dates before August 2023. As of now, our dates are in August 2023, while we planned to go this year itself,” says Madhurima.
Can agents help?
While many struggled for an appointment, we also came across individuals who were given early appointments. “I couldn’t get any appointment before next year but at the same time, one of my friends applied for a visa in August for a wedding in November in the US. he has got a date. I wonder how he was able to get a visa in less than two months,” says Surbhi Varma.
Parul Sharma, a senior travel organiser in Mumbai clears that there is nothing like getting appointments breaching the process. “Some people may get appointments early if they have an agent who is aware of what time the slot opens. There is a particular time when the window opens and if the agent is aware he can apply and may get early dates. It’s like how we do Tatkal booking in Railway. There is no way you can breach the process. Agents are aware of the timings and with some extra charge, they can get you the dates. They know the slot timing. A few cases can only be coincidences,” says Parul.
Madhurima validates saying agents can’t do much behind the doors. “We contacted one agent from Delhi but honestly, no one can help you as such. When the US embassy opens a slot then only you can do something about it. And it’s available for everyone. Agents can’t generally do much behind the doors. they just try to give you early slots as per the sudden openings on the US visa booking site,” says Madhurima, adding that agents also give you the option of applying for a visa from different countries where there is less pressure. “In our case, we were suggested to go to the US embassy of Thailand and get it done. These days people even go to Mexico to get early appointments for US visas,” she shares.
Interestingly, while Indians have to wait for at least two years, the timeframe for China is only two days and 450 days for Islamabad.
While the US Mission to India remained open for the majority of the pandemic, the number of applicants that could be accommodated per day was constrained by local limitations including lockdowns and social distancing requirements, said US embassy spokesperson Chris Elms. Though, the processing of all categories of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, for both first-time and returning applicants, has resumed.
“By prioritising students this summer to ensure they arrived at school on time, we were able to issue a record of over 82,000 student visas. As a result, more Indian students are headed to the US this year than from any other country,” he said.
The US State Department has made aggressive plans to staff up all Mission India posts to their highest levels ever, said the official.
New officers are being hired and trained, and consular facilities are being upgraded while a newly expanded facility is set to open in Hyderabad in the coming months, he said.
“Consular Team India is also making use of new authorities that increase processing efficiency, including expanded interview waiver authority for previously issued applicants. In practice, this means tens of thousands of appointments are yet to be opened between now and the “next available” date currently showing in the system,” said Elms.