Promising to bring its visa staff across the U.S. embassy and five consulates in India back up to full strength in the next few months, the U.S. on Sunday said it was launching a “surge” in staffing and a number of other measures to increase visa processing capacity across the country. The statement came even as U.S. missions in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad clock up processing times of up to two years for a normal visitor visa for tourism or business (B1/B2). The embassy also said Saturday (January 21) was the first of several Saturdays when visa offices would remain open across India.
“Our consular teams across India are putting in the extra hours to meet the needs of international travellers and bring down wait times,” said Mumbai Consular Chief John Ballard. “This is part of a mission-wide effort to find innovative solutions to facilitate travel to the United States,” he added.
Apart from increasing the staff numbers and opening on Saturdays, the U.S. embassy is extending its hours of operation, expanding conditions to offer those who have previously been given visas “interview waivers” or process them through “remote interviews”, and offering slots in other countries for Indians as third country nationals (TCN). In addition, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julie Stufft had revealed last November that applications from India were being adjudicated by U.S. consular officers in other countries including China, where there isn’t as much pressure on the visa officers.
Hit by pandemic
“By this summer, the U.S. mission in India will be at full staffing, and we expect to be processing visas at levels from prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the U.S. embassy statement said The pandemic resulted in profound reductions in the department’s visa processing capacity, and many of our embassies and consulates were at times only able to offer emergency services.,” the statement said.
According to the U.S. embassy, the India mission released more than 2,50,000 additional B1/B2 appointments in 2022 and adjudicated more than 8,00,000 non-immigrant visas during the year. Despite all the measures, the U.S. State department estimates that the wait time for a visitors visa interview in Delhi and the five Indian consulates is between 500-600 days, in contrast to European capitals where it is about 20 days, or Beijing where it is 34 days, or even in south Asia, where an interview takes about 296 days in Islamabad and 394 days in Dhaka. However the figure is an improvement on last year, when visa interview wait times were more than three years.