An Update on U.S. Visa Appointments and Consular Affairs in India
Last week, the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Mr. Don Heflin, at the U.S. Embassy in India, provided an update on visa processing in India. He described the steps they are taking across Mission India to reduce the visa appointment wait and processing time as well as appointment backlogs. Some of the key points are provided below.
Augmenting Staff and Other Measures
• Mission India plans to be at 100 percent staffing within the next year. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mission India was operating at about 50 percent capacity. Now it is at about 70 percent and rising.
• In the meantime, the State Department is sending temporary staff to assist Mission India.
• Mission India continues to offer expanded Dropbox facilities to reduce the number of in-person visa interviews.
• Interview waiver and Dropbox cases are being sent to consular posts outside India and this will help reduce wait times for such applicants. Changes are expected within the next couple of weeks or so.
Visa Interview Appointments
• Student visa appointments will be scheduled for mid-to-late November through the end of December. Half of the appointments will open for booking in mid-October; the second half will open in mid-November.
• Mission India updated its system to allow for separate scheduling of exchange visitor (J) visas. Applicants should see a small number of appointments available each week.
• Mission India will prioritize first-time student visa applicants and will open up appointments for students who have been previously refused toward the end of the interview season.
• H and L visas will be prioritized and within the next few weeks Mission India will offer 100,000 appointments for 2023 for applicants in these categories including first time applicants and dependents.
• At present the visa appointment system automatically directs eligible candidates to Dropbox appointments. These applicants cannot request an expedited appointment. Hence, Mission India is modifying its system so that applicants can choose to disregard the Dropbox option and seek an in-person interview enabling them to request an expedited appointment.
• So far third-party agents have been able to use algorithms to book appointments as soon as they became available, rendering it difficult for the general public to do so. Mission India has introduced certain changes to make it more difficult for such third-party agents.
• For a long time Mission India made available “place holder” appointments to facilitate expedite interview requests. However, this is no longer the practice, and all appointments (for 2023 and 2024) are “real” appointments that will not be cancelled closer to the date as was the practice with “place holders.” However, applicants can change their appointment if an earlier appointment becomes available.
• Mission India receives more than a hundred expedite requests each week but do not have the capacity to accommodate such requests. Applicants are asked to make requests only if they are eligible under the very strict criteria published on their website.
• Mission India may grant expedite requests from business travelers for significant, large meetings, senior-level executive travel or in cases where the travel is linked to a contract with a U.S. company.
• Mission India expects the family-based green card backlog to be cleared within the year for those whose priority dates are current.
• An announcement about the validity of Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees is expected soon. Anyone who paid the MRV fee during the COVID-19 pandemic will need to book an appointment by Sept. 30, 2023, in order for the MRV fee to remain valid. The appointment can occur after September 30, 2023 but must be booked before that date. Once an appointment is scheduled, the MRV will be locked in and will be valid for the related visa application.