Providing Perspective on Potential Solutions to U.S. Visa Backlogs. Too Soon to Raise Your Hopes!

Providing perspective on potential solutions to U.S. visa backlogs. Too soon to raise your hopes!

A US presidential advisory commission has voted to streamline the green card process, which, if implemented, will hugely reduce wait times for Indian applicants. The President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (PACAANHPI) has voted to reduce green card processing time to six months – currently, Indians face wait times of over a decade for their permanent residence permit. These recommendations will be sent to President Joe Biden, who may then implement them through an executive order.

“These are recommendations and will require government action and/or agency policy changes to have an impact,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner at LawQuest, an immigration law firm. “If it does gain traction and even if a few changes are implemented it would benefit Indians who are in the green card queue.”

The Immigration and Citizenship Sub-committee approved a set of recommendations which are now to be presented for further approval. One of these is a recommendation to reduce internal processing times for family green card applications. Indian applicants face the highest wait times on account of the annual country cap and the high number of applicants.

Others include reducing the visa backlog by expanding staffing and modernizing processes at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reduce wait times, expanding premium processing services, providing automatic work permit renewals and quickly processing work permits and other immigration applications.

It also recommends that the USCIS and Department of State issue new public charge policies that support Asian American and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islander immigrant families accessing health and well-being supports, and partner with other federal agencies and community organizations to engage in outreach to these communities.

US steps up visa processing, with special focus on students

US steps up visa processing, with special focus on students

On May 11, Don Heflin, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi went live on Instagram and Facebook to provide an update on visa services with a special focus on students. This is a summary of the information shared with the audience.

The Minister started out by saying that the summertime is all about visas and that they had made special arrangements for student visas. He confirmed that they had issued a record 62,000 student visas last year and expected to break that record this year. In fact, they expect to issue more student (F, M and Js including dependents) visas than ever before.

Capacity Building:

When addressing questions about return to “normal” levels of service the Minister indicated that this year they expect to be a 2/3rd of their pre-COVID capacity and hope to reach 100% of this by the end of 2023. To increase capacity, Mission India is recruiting more officers in addition to training existing staff members etc. They recently added five more visa officers at their Consulate in Mumbai.

• A large number of student visa appointments will be rolled out in the ensuing months starting next week.

• Students currently in the U.S. will get Dropbox appointments easily as they will open more appointments for them.

• Between August 15 – September 1 they will open up 15,000 slots for students with past refusals. Students who receive their I-20s later than expected could also avail of these appointments.

• Parents who have visas or are eligible for a Dropbox appointment could travel to the U.S. with their student children.

• Appointments for first time B-2 visa applicants or for those who do not qualify for Dropbox (collectively call new applicants here) appointments may avail of appointments that will be added to the system in late August or early September. They will release a large number of appointments from this period through Spring 2023 for new visa applicants.

Pitfalls and Tips:

• Check for visa appointments multiple times a day but if you “refresh” the portal frequently you may be locked out of the system for 72 hours.

• Applicants are advised to be prepared to “tell their story” during the visa interview, which should be similar to an elevator pitch as visa interviews usually last for a couple of minutes or so.

• Applicants should be able to convey to the officer why a particular course, or level of education makes sense to the applicant’s career goal. Be ready to explain how the intended education fits in with your life. This becomes more important when an applicant is changing academic tracks or pursuing a second degree at the same level of an existing one.

• Applicants should carry all their financial documents to the interview but officers at Mission India generally do not focus on abilit to pay for the course as Indian parents almost always find ways to pay for the education and stay.

• Neither English language tests nor high levels of proficiency in the language are prerequisites for an interview. However, an applicant who is not proficient in English may find it difficult during the interview to justify bonafide intent to study.

• Applicants may use agents to procure visa appointments and help with the application but this could be risky as the agent’s errors or misrepresentations would be attributed to the applicant and could affect visa adjudication.

• Applicants who get 221(g) notices must take the action required in the notice without any delay. This helps the officers quickly make decisions.

• Third country nationals may apply in India, but it is best to apply in the country where one resides.

• A visa can be issued only within 120 days before a student’s course start day. One could apply before that, but the case will be kept pending under 221(g) and the applicant will be asked to send in the passport at a later date.

• It helps for the applicant to be confident and articulate at the visa interview. Canned answers do not help but sharing a personal story that influenced the choice of the institute would help.

• Dropbox applications are generally processed within seven days after the Dropbox appointment.

• Even if the education institute has waived any test, it would be best to take it as a good score would be an advantage in the interview.

Ready to fly again: Travel firms expect heavy rush as US lifts curbs

Travel companies are expecting a heavy rush to the US following the withdrawal of curbs on fully vaccinated travellers from select countries, including India, on November 8.

The move will benefit those holding long-term tourist, business, and work visas. Also, new and extra flights by Air India and American Airlines are expected to provide better travel options.

Visa appointments (for fresh applicants) have been curtailed as part of local Covid-19 measures and there is no clarity yet on their normalisation.

“The US update on acceptance of fully vaccinated Indians without quarantine from November 8 is a welcome development for our business travellers and also the family and leisure segments. Flight capacity is currently limited to flights under the air travel bubble.

Fares that are already over 60 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels may well see a further surge,” said Indiver Rastogi, president and group head (global business travel), Thomas Cook India.

Return economy class fares for non-stop flights on the Delhi-Newark/New York route for travel between November 10 and December 30 are priced Rs 90,000-Rs 120,000. On certain dates, though, return tickets are a bit cheaper around Rs 70,000.

On Friday, the White House announced the lifting of Covid restrictions for vaccinated travellers from 33 countries, making it easier for those flying between the two countries.

Those inoculated with FDA or WHO-approved Covid-19 vaccines would be accepted. The Joe Biden administration would separately issue orders and guidance documents to implement the new travel policy.

Travel restrictions for Indians came into effect on May 4 when the country was grappling with the second wave of the Covid pandemic.

Those restrictions meant that tourist or business visa-holders had to spend 14 days outside India in order to gain entry into the US. But the curbs did not apply to US citizens and permanent residents, among others. Students whose classes began after August 1 were allowed direct entry.

While traditionally November-December is the peak season for India travel from the US, this year there can be a rush on the outbound flights, too.

“International travel will gain momentum with the decline in daily Covid-19 cases across the country and the easing of travel norms by leading global destinations, including the US. Fares will be higher in the initial few days. We expect their rationalisation after a week or so,” said a spokesperson of Yatra.com.

Prashant Pitti, co-founder of EaseMyTrip, said: “There is a jump of nearly 50 per cent in demand for US flights and we are hopeful that more routes and options will be available soon. There had been a significant jump in airfares in the recent past and as of now, rates have stabilised. We hope this trend continues as we expect more flight options.”

At present Air India and United Airlines operate non-stop flights to the US from Mumbai and Delhi. From November 3, Air India is increasing frequency on the Delhi-Chicago route from six to seven per week. American Airlines is launching new services between New York and Delhi from October 31 and between Seattle and Bengaluru from January 4.

“The US government decision to lift the travel restrictions is a positive development and now it must be followed up by increasing visa services in India. Visa appointments have been restricted due to local Covid-19 measures and staffing issues within the US Department of State, among others. This has impacted applicants of tourist, business, and work visas,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, an immigration law firm.

“New H-1B visas have been issued to those who qualify under the National Interest Exception policy. However, there are thousands of individuals who are approved and eligible to apply for H-1B visas and have been unable to join their new jobs in the US. Enhanced visa services in India are crucial to enable people to travel to the US,” she added.

 

H-1B visa approvals up on Biden administration’s easier rules

Request for Evidence down significantly, say law firms

As an indication of easing of H-1B visa rules by the Biden Administration, the percentage of applications getting approved has gone up significantly. As a result, the number of cases requiring Request for Evidence (RFE) has come down significantly, according to immigration law firms.

RFE is sought when the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires additional evidence to make a decision on an H-1B application. USCIS needs to have proof of a valid employer-employee relationship.

Nandini Nair, Partner & Co-Chair of the Immigration & Naturalization Group Greenspoon Marder, said, “We are definitely seeing quicker and a higher percentage of approvals for all visa classifications in the past six months. This is a significant change from what we experienced the past several years.”

US embassy approves record number of student visas this year

Poorvi Chothani, founder and managing partner of LawQuest, a global immigration law firm, told BusinessLine: “Over the past year, the RFEs have gone down significantly. To give an idea, in our firm, for a sample size of 150 cases/applications, 45 RFEs were submitted. This year it was down to six till date for the same sample size.”

This comes on the back of several recent changes in the H-1B visa rules to increase the number applying and giving a fair chance to all.

H-1B is the most sought-after employment visa, especially for Indian techies working with IT firms, which, going by the sheer volume of applications, get around 70 per cent of the annual allotment of H-1B visas.

Second lottery relief

“Due to the second lottery, skilled immigrants have found relief under the Biden administration, with the approval rate increasing over 12 per cent. The H-1B cap remains low, with around 87,000 applications accepted out of a total of 308,000 filed this year,” Sonam Chandwani, managing partner, KS Legal & Associates, told BusinessLine.

Expedite process of issuing visas to international students: Senators to US govt

According to Chandwani, the approval rate of H-1B visas over the past decade has averaged 80 per cent. “The 2020 ban on H-1B skilled workers and certain other temporary visas has been lifted, which is good news for the H-1B programme as a whole. This is a ray of hope for people willing to migrate under the category, but it is expected that the restrictions will become more stringent in order to dissuade corporations from outsourcing their labour to other countries by modifying the definition of the employer-employee connection.”

 

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