May Deepavali become a federal holiday in the US or not; if the stamping of H1B visas within the US is granted, this will surely be the best Diwali gift or the best gift of the year for Indians. A facility for the stamping of H1B visas has been unanimously recommended by the US President’s advisory commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Indian American Ajay Jain Bhutoria, an entrepreneur in the San Francisco Bay Area and a member of the AAPI National Leadership Council, is the driving force behind this recommendation in the White House.
H1B visa stamping in India has continued to be a nightmare for lakhs of Indians since the onset of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of H1B visa holders got stuck in India due to the pandemic-induced closure of US Embassy and consulates. Currently, the nightmare drags on over the US visa renewal appointment delays in India. This affects Indian families and causes their separation. Over 800 days is the visa interview wait time at the US Embassy and Consulates in India. Many Indians on H1B visa lost their US jobs as they could not travel back without visa stamping during the pandemic.
The recommendation for the stamping of H1B visas in USA has more to it. The Presidential commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders would like USCIS to update its visa stamping policy, which was done many years ago but it was not honored. It is also recommended that H1B visa holders should be provided with advanced travel documents so that they don’t get stuck back home and can re-enter the US on an expired visa.
If H1B visa holders are given advanced travel documents, they may be able to travel to India via Europe without a transit visa. As of today, if your US visa has expired, you need a transit visa to travel to India from USA via Europe. Traveling through the Middle East on an expired US visa does have any transit visa requirement. Given advanced travel documents, you will be able to choose a round-trip flight between USA and India over two one-way flights. Usually, round-trip flights to India cost lesser than two one-way flights booked separately. Without worrying about visa stamping in India and needing a transit visa for Europe, you will be able to visit your parents and attend to their medical needs back home.
The presidential approval to the stamping of H1B visas in America will promise a host of benefits. This is a most pressing need of the hour in view of the understaffed US Embassy and Consulates, India struggling to clear the visa backlogs that have built up over the past two years of the pandemic. It is draining financially and mentally those who traveled to India for unprecedented reasons such as family emergency, and in the hope of getting their visa renewal applications processed during a definite period of stay. They end up paying a fare difference for rescheduling their flights more than once, which costs them additional hundreds of dollars each time, due to the US visa processing delays in India.
“This is when an open ticket comes in handy. Keeping your flight tickets in open status is cheaper and better than rescheduling your reservation and paying a fare difference twice or thrice. Once your return travel date is confirmed, you can use the open ticket by paying a fare difference (if any) and certain fees (as per the airline policy) within 6 to 12 months from the date of original booking. We recommend open-ended air tickets to our customers without certain return travel dates,” said the chief ticketing officer of IndianEagle.com, a leading travel-booking partner of Indians in America.
However, H1B visa stamping in the United States is the most pragmatic solution given the way H1B visa holders from India and their families are being affected to the point of separation, mental health, and financial setbacks. At the same time, the stamping of H1B visas in USA may have certain implications as far as aviation economy is concerned. A sizeable number of H1B visa holders travel to India for visa renewal/extension every year. If H1B visas begin to be stamped in USA, they won’t need to travel to India except for other purposes, and its impact may be felt in US-India aviation.