Describing India as an important partner with whom the United States enjoyed strong people-to-people ties, top U.S. lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to address the visa waiting-period issue in the country on a priority basis.
Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Congressman Michael Waltz, Co-Chair of the House India Caucus, during two separate Congressional hearings on Consular Affairs Budget asked top State Department officials why people in India were facing waiting periods of up to 600 days for approval of visa applications.
“The United States enjoys strong people to people ties with India. India is now part of the Quad. We are constantly engaging it in geo-strategic interests that we have. New Jersey is home to a great number of Indian Americans and their families. I appreciate and applaud the department’s heightened focus towards reducing wait times for first-time B1-B2 applicants in India,” Menendez said.
"But despite that progress this past year, India continues to face the longest wait times globally with average wait times for an appointment for the first time B1-B2 applicant ranging between 450 and 600 days. Could you please speak to me as to why that is the case? Why does it take up to 600 days for an adjudication?” Menendez asked during a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I'm the co-chair of the U.S.-India Caucus. I think it's one of the most consequential economic diplomatic security relationships we have in the 21st Century. However, one of the consistent and painful complaints that I receive from Indian-Americans and from our Indian colleagues is the wait time, despite the fact that in India, I believe you have the second or third most consular affairs officers,” Congressman Waltz said during a hearing by the House Foreign Relations Committee.
“The data that I have is that the average waiting period in Mumbai, India, was 587 calendar days. With our trade over $150 billion with the consequential relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi [who came] for a state dinner and visit just this month, what are we doing to fix this? Have you looked at any India-specific policy fast–tracks or issues?” he asked.
He said that the delay in visa would impact the business relationship.
“Have you looked at even perhaps a Quad umbrella or bubble for some of these critical business relationships. My state just in Florida, it’s estimated that $8 billion in trade conferences, events and visitors — that’s 250,000 jobs — are affected by these delays. So what are we doing to fix it?” Waltz asked.
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Rena Bitter told the lawmakers at the two different Congressional hearings that the State Department was working hard on it and had taken several steps to address this issue.
"India is a place where we have historically had high demand for visas and there's just a tremendous amount of pent-up demand. One of the things about India is that every post is unique, but they also had a really devastating bout with Covid 19 quite late and so that their ability to meet the pent-up demand lasted quite a bit longer,” she said.
The visa wait times have been reduced by about two-thirds.
"We have opened appointments for Indian nationals, dedicated appointments in other posts for specific appointments and in all other categories. I'm sure you’re aware of this and you’ve mentioned it, wait times are pre-pandemic levels better.” she said.
“We will adjudicate 1 million visas in India this year. Our productivity there is extraordinarily high,” Bitter said.
In the House Congressional hearing Bitter said the US has opened appointments for Indian applicants at other posts that are dedicated just to Indians to make sure that they are able to get their travel needs met.
"We surge staff to India. We reduced wait times by about two thirds at the beginning of the year and we’ll continue to focus on it. We’re very aware of these issues,” she said.