Special Correspondent

New Consulate is due to open in Hyderabad by late 2008

The Consulate has 19 visa officers handling 1,400 appointments a day

“Drunk driving in the U.S. could have more serious consequences”

CHENNAI: From mid-December, the United States Consulate in Chennai will start fingerprinting all ten fingers of visa applicants, instead of the current practice of fingerprinting the two index fingers. That will lead to a slowdown in the Consulate’s visa processing for a while, according to Consul Peter Hancon.

Addressing a seminar on the visa process organised by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce in Chennai here on Wednesday, Mr. Hancon said the Consulate currently had 19 visa officers handling about 1,400 appointments a day. However, the ten-finger digital scan, which would help to avoid confusing an innocent person’s prints with those of someone on the criminal watch-list according to the U.S. State Department, would push down the applicant interview rate.

While a new Consulate is due to open in Hyderabad by late 2008, it is unlikely to affect the Chennai Consulate’s position as Asia’s largest issuer of U.S. visas. “Hyderabad will take about a third of the current Chennai load, but we expect the growth in Chennai to be at least 20 to 30 per cent,” said Mr. Hancon, explaining that new staff, including several local ones, could soon be added to deal with the rising volume of applicants. This year, the appointment schedule for H1, B and L visas, all meant for business purposes, is booked solid till December.

Drunk drivers warned

Driving while drunk in the U.S. could now have more serious consequences than a quick conviction and fine. According to a new American policy, it could prevent you from re-entering the U.S.

Mr. Hancon explained that as of June 2007, the US Consulates are implementing a policy to take drunk-driving convictions more seriously. “There is a feeling that someone engaging in that kind of behaviour could well have a medical or psychological problem of a deeper nature,” he said. Accordingly, all applicants with a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol on their record will be sent for a psychological evaluation, on the basis of which visa officers will determine whether the applicant is eligible for re-entry into the U.S.

Senthil Kumar K, a managing attorney with Murthy Immigration Services, confirmed that over the last two months, they had received four or five cases of applicants being denied U.S. visa for drunk driving conviction.

Visa officer and U.S. Vice-Consul Anjana Modi said that the most common instance recorded recently was when a young professional travelling regularly on an H1 or B visa returned for a visa interview expecting a smooth ride, but was taken aback when drunk driving convictions were pulled out.