For the half million Indians who run the bureaucratic maze at U.S. consulates every year, U.S. Ambassador David C. Mulford’s announcement in October in New Delhi pledging to “reduce the waiting time for a visa appointment with the goal of eliminating this waiting period altogether,” was as startling as it was monumental.
|Ambassador Mulford greeting applicants at the embassy|
Visa applicants, who typically waited for months on end for an appointment, are now greeted on the embassy’s website with the surprising greeting: “Visa appointments are now available in all categories.”
Mulford explained: “Nothing is more important for the future of our two countries than the strong and growing bond of business and people-to-people contact. Strengthening these connections is the future of U.S.-Indian relations and we have begun this today.”
In an exclusive interview with Little India, Peter Kaestner, U.S. Consul General, sheds light on the new visa regime, bollywood, birding and butter chicken.
Ambassador Mulford’s comments have created quite the international buzz. Now that the commitment has been vocalized, how does the embassy plan to reduce and eventually eliminate the waiting time for visa appointments?
It is a simple plan. Starting September 25, we put all available resources on the NIV (Non Immigrant Visa) line. In addition to the mission’s resources, the Department of State supported us both financially and with additional vice consuls. We have temporary duty officers in India from as far away as Bogota, Hermosillo, Tokyo, Hong Kong and London. Between September 25 and October 23 we increased our visa production 52 per cent. The backlog for appointments for non-immigrant visas has essentially been eliminated. There are appointments available all over India.
Do these changes apply to immigrant and non-immigrant visas?
The initial push was directed at the NIV appointment backlog. Now that we have NIV appointments available, we are also looking at our IV (Immigrant Visa) processing too. Early next year, we intend to examine all our interactions with the public with the intention to making them more efficient and customer friendly.
Can you give us a sense of what the average waiting period was for the most common visa categories and what it is now?
When we started our NIV appointment elimination push on September 25, ordinary tourist appointments had a six-month backlog. Business Executive Program appointments could be obtained in three to four weeks and students were able to get emergency appointments at any time. At present, there are no waiting periods. All visas appointment categories are available. Because of some processing peculiarities, Mumbai visa applications must be handed in to our appointment provider five days in advance. Therefore, there is a delay in Mumbai until we find another way to process the cases differently. (We are exploring this option.)
Certain IV categories, including Limited Family Based visas and H visas, have annual entry allowances. How will the revisions affect the wait times and/or number of allocations?
The limitations that you hrefer to are congressionally mandated. Only a change in legislation will increase those numbers. Eliminating the backlog will allow all applicants, including those on numerically controlled visa categories, to get an interview more expeditiously.