‘India no. 1 priority…waiting time for US visas may reduce by 2023′: Official

The waiting period for US visas is likely to move towards further normalcy by mid-2023, a senior US embassy official told Hindustan Times, Livemint’s sister publication. The official said that they have a priority in reducing the waiting time for non-immigrant work visas such as the H and L categories, including the coveted H-1B visas, B-1 business visas, B-2 tourism visas, and visas for crews of shipping companies and airlines. The effort will be on reducing the wait times as much as possible and moving towards greater normalcy by June-July 2023, he said.

He said some progress has already been made through changes in rules and the opening of 100,000 slots for H and L work visas. The US will focus on applicants in these categories using the “dropbox” facility, or those who already were issued a US visa and are exempted from interviews, before taking up the case of first-time applicants.

Further, the official told the daily that priority will also be given to H-1B visa holders in the US who want to visit India for family reunions, and then the focus will shift to first-time applicants.

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.

Certain changes in rules have meant more Indians are eligible for the drop box facility to get an interview waiver. For instance, those who had a US visa that expired in the past four years can use the drop box facility while applying for a new B-1 or B-2 visa. Students with an expired US visa too can use the drop box facility with certain conditions.

“Opening the 100,000 additional slots for H and L visas cut the wait time, which was more than a year earlier, to about half. The wait time for those using the drop box for B-1 and B-2 visas continues to be several months. We will see progress over the next nine months,” the official said.

The US state department’s website for visa appointment shows first-time Indian applicants for B-1 and B-2 visas’ waiting time is of 925 days, the official indicated that the actual time would be less.

He said US’s number 1 priority is India for now, and added, “There are lots of applicants in all categories only in India, and that’s why it’s a priority”. Acknowledging that experts were unprepared for the rate at which the demand for visas had come in following the easing of the pandemic. The experts had anticipated that there would be a surge in demand only in 2025, he added.

The US side expects applications for all types of visas in India to increase to about 100,000 a month – or about 1.2 million annually – by 2023, making the country the second largest for visa operations after China.

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