The Indian pursuit of the American dream is showing no signs of slowing as the United States has taken cognizance of the demand for US visas from citizens here, and is working on a war footing to address grievances pertaining to visa backlogs. Last week, the US made more visa applicants eligible for interview waivers to bring down the long visa wait time in the country. Washington, for the first time plans to send some of the ‘drop box’ applications from India abroad, for adjudication/verification. The idea is to enable consulate staff in India to clear the massive backlog vis-a-vis appointment waiting period for first time business (B1) and tourism (B2) visa applicants. Head count in the consulates is also being gradually beefed up.
It might be recalled that a US-based diaspora association had kick-started a petition campaign urging the US administration to bring down the long waitlist for various kinds of American visas issued from India. The association pointed out that despite a two-year-long COVID-era pause in visa appointments at the US embassy in India, the current situation was far from normal, and required a minimum of 300 to 900 days of wait time based on the visa types.
As per the new arrangement, Indians whose B1 or B2 visas expired within four years of applying for a new one under the same category, as opposed to the one year gap earlier, will be eligible for the drop box route. Many groups had highlighted that delays in visa appointment impact the lives of immigrants of Indian origin based out of the US in adverse ways, as they are deprived of familial visits, and a support system in times of need. Industries and businesses located in the US could also bear the brunt of the absence of skilled manpower from India, due to this backlog.
Encouragingly, the one category of visa that has been shielded from this backlog seems to be for the international student community, which the US recognises is a valuable driver of growth in the education system of America. Previously, an appointment for the ‘interview required’ Students/Exchange Visitors (F, M, J) visa took just about 50 days, which is a little less than two months and does not dent the plans of prospective students. Currently, student or H and L category applicants who had a US visa of any category, irrespective of their visa expiry dates, are eligible for the drop box route.
The prompt action on part of the US government regarding the visa backlog speaks highly of India’s importance in the American scheme of things. India is set to blaze past China in the number of visas issued by 2023, and will trail behind only Mexico in this regard.
It’s worth remembering that India and the US share a decades-long cordial and diplomatic relationship that hinges on both economic cooperation as well as a seamless transfer of technologies and highly skilled manpower, which has contributed to the progress of both nations. The US still holds the promise of attracting some of the top technical and academic minds from India, many of whom occupy a pride of place in Silicon Valley and prestigious centres of learning in the US. The sooner that grievances can be addressed, the faster we can embark on our collective growth path in the post-pandemic world.