India flags concern on visa delay issues, US promises action in months

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has flagged to the US the serious problems being faced by Indian citizens, especially professionals and tourists, in obtaining American visas. It figured in a meeting between Jaishankar and US secretary of state Antony Blinken in Washington, with the former raising the issue of visa delays and hurdles in human mobility and the US promising action within months.

Jaishankar said, “It is also in our mutual interest to facilitate the development and mobility of talent.” Blinken responded, “Bear with us…We have a plan, when it comes to India, to address the backlog of visas.”

Context

Thousands of Indians are waiting for the consular interviews, putting their plans for studies and visiting their loved ones at risk. The problems have been accentuated manifold with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Indians planning to visit the United States may have to wait for at least two-to-three years for a visa appointment.

Screenshots on Twitter showed wait times ranging from 300-800 days for a US visa appointment across Indian cities. During the pandemic, especially the Omicron phase, a lot of working professionals and students had been sent home. Last month, the US embassy said in a statement that the Department of State had doubled consular hiring and was training new employees.

Inordinate delays due to backlog

Inordinate delays have caused serious problems to professionals and students in particular. Citizens planning to visit the USA are unlikely to get a visa appointment before a year in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. For student/exchange visa interview appointments, the wait time at New Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata-based US embassies is at least 430 days. Hence the appointments can only be booked for December 2023.

The wait times have largely been attributed to the shortage of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as per media reports. The Bureau of Consular Affairs website showed long waiting hours for a non-immigrant visa interview appointment.

Wait-time for aspirants living in cities

The waiting period for interview appointments is similar to or higher for US Consulates in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. According to a media report, residents in New Delhi hoping to get a visitor visa appointment will have to wait for 833 days, while students will have to wait for 430 days. In Mumbai, a visitor visa interview appointment can only be booked for 2025 (848 days), and in Kolkata and Chennai, it can only be booked for November 2024.

Wait times are shorter in China, Pak, Bangladesh

Interestingly, the wait time for a US visa interview appointment was much shorter in China. The wait times could also be shorter in China due to lack of demand, growing animosity between both nations and the zero tolerance approach to handling coronavirus. For a visitor visa, Beijing residents have a wait time of 2 days, while those in Shanghai have a wait time of 2-10 days only.

The waiting time is also shorter for Islamabad and Karachi compared to Indian cities, according to a News18 report. Only Bangladesh had a large backlog for visitor visas as applicants in Dhaka may have to wait longer than 500 days for an appointment, it added.

Additionally, in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the appointment wait time for student visa interviews is much shorter- 21 days and 183 days respectively.

(With inputs from agencies)

-INDIA NEWS STREAM

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