(Courtesy: Indian Express)
The US State Department has quietly implemented recommendations of a presidential commission which has suggested steps like opening up American diplomatic missions outside India for visa appointments to reduce the visa backlog in the country.
India was one of the very few countries where applications for US visas saw a major upswing after coronavirus-related travel restrictions were lifted.
Moved by a commission member, Ajay Jain Bhutoria from Silicon Valley, the presidential commission observed that the visa appointment delays running into more than 800 days were causing huge problems for the students and visitors who have plans to come to study in the US and visit the country.
The State Department should allow virtual interviews where applicable and allow staff from embassies around the world and the US consular staff to help conduct the virtual interviews at embassies with high backlogs and help clear them, the commission recommended.
The recommendations included opening up American diplomatic missions outside India for visa appointments, having more counters and deploying additional resources to process visa applications.
The US Embassy in India processed over 1 lakh applications just in January 2023, their highest total in a single month and the highest in any month since July 2019.
In its December meeting, the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders recommended several steps to reduce the growing delay in visa appointment times in India and other countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It recommended the State Department hire new Full-
Time officers/consular or Temporary Staff or contractors or bring back retired consular officers to clear the backlog at Embassies in Asia which have wait times of 400 or more days and shrink the wait time to 2-4 weeks be clearing the visa application backlog.
The State Department could also use staff from other embassies around the world to help clear the backlog in countries in Asia which have huge backlogs and delays in visa appointments, it had recommended.
The advisory committee noted that in 2012 President Barack Obama issued a memo to reduce the wait time from several months to a few days and this memo streamlined the visa process. The Trump administration had rescinded the President Obama memo, and this is also contributing as one of the factors in causing delays for Visa appointments, it said.
As such, it recommended that President Joe Biden should consider issuing a memo to the State Department to shrink the visa appointment wait times to 2-4 weeks maximum for countries with significant backlogs including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries in a similar situation.
There have been growing concerns in India over the long waiting period for first-time visa applicants, especially for those applying under B1 (business) and B2 (tourist) categories.
The waiting period for first-time B1/B2 visa applicants in India was close to three years in October last year.
In January, the State Department not only implemented remote processing of interview waiver cases for applicants with previous US visas but also launched several initiatives, including scheduling special interviews for first-time applicants and increasing the strength of consular staff.