US State Department Reducing Visa Wait Times with Multifaceted Approach

In an effort to reduce long visa wait times, particularly for workers or tourists from India attempting to obtain or renew a nonimmigrant American visa, US officials are instituting a multi-pronged approach that includes domestic visa renewal, application options in other countries, expanded interview waiver options, and additional weekend appointment slots. This is according to information provided by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs Julie Stufft, in a media appearance with the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies on February 21.

Domestic Visa Renewal

As reported on February 13, the US State Department is launching a pilot program this summer that will allow certain H-1B and L-1 workers in the US to renew their visas domestically. According to Stufft, the program will be expanded this fall and available to those on H, L, and I visas.

Importantly, this program could allow many workers on nonimmigrant visas to stay in the US when renewing their visas, thus sparing them from the significant wait time and expense of returning to their home country for a visa renewal appointment.

Indians Can Now Travel to Thailand or Germany for US Visa Application

As of February 3, the US Embassy in Bangkok has started offering B-1 and B-2 visa appointments to Indian residents, and has been joined by consulates in Germany. This third-country option can effectively reduce tourist and business visa appointment wait times from nearly 600 days to as little as two weeks.

Of course, this option does involve the applicant first traveling from India to Thailand or Germany, but it could be viable for those who are already planning to be in those countries prior to traveling to the US.

Expanded Visa Interview Waivers

Stufft also stated that the US State Department is planning to expand the visa interview waiver process for F-1 international students, J-1 exchange visitors, and certain temporary workers.

This will allow qualified applicants to skip the fingerprint appointment and/or US consular interview, thereby vastly speeding up the visa application process.

Weekend Visa Interviews in India

Starting this past January, the US Embassy in New Delhi, as well as US consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai have started offering Saturday visa appointment slots for those who require an in-person interview to apply for a US visa. It is reported that these Saturday interviews will continue as a way to help clear the sizable visa backlog of those still awaiting interview appointments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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