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Applying for US visa? You may get appointment only in 2024


NEW DELHI: Amit Chopra, a Gurgaon-based software engineer planning a white Christmas in New York this year with family, was in for a shock when he went to the US embassy website to apply for visitor visas. The earliest appointment was available in March 2024!
“At this rate, we should be planning for the Christmas of 2024,” said Chopra (name changed on request).
Scores of people planning to apply for US visitor visas have been stumped by unprecedented long appointment wait times. The US State Department website shows the average waiting for the same in India is about one-and-a-half years, which means those planning to apply now can get an appointment for March-April 2024.

Leading travel agents said visa applications and processing are taking a long time for several other countries too, including Schengen states, Canada and the UK.
“Majority of the European embassies are not even giving appointments for visas. Sweden is among the rare countries giving appointments. Similarly, one may get an appointment for September-end for Switzerland. VFS has a visa-at-home service for Austrian visas (for an extra charge). People are trying to get Schengen visas from these places,” said Travel Agents Federation of India joint secretary Anil Kalsi.

“But the longest appointment wait time is for a US visitor visa. However, once a passport is submitted there, the same is returned within 10 days. Those granted visas are given 10-year multiple entry at no extra cost. This is a big plus with the US,” he added.
So can a person who gets a Schengen visa in India from, for instance, Sweden fly straight to another European country, like Germany, France, Holland or Switzerland (four EU nations that have direct flights to and from India)? The longest duration of stay in Schengen states has to be in the country from which the visa has been obtained, Kalsi explained.
Post-Omicron, there is a surge in travel demand — and visa applications — in India. Foreign missions that had sent staffers back home during Covid-19 are yet to ramp up manpower, leading to humungous delays in visa processing.

Last week, Britain’s high commissioner to India Alex Ellis had “apologised” for visa delays and advised people against buying air tickets till they get their visas. Missions are currently focussing on expediting student visas as many countries are expecting an unprecedented number of Indian students to join their colleges this fall.
A US embassy spokesperson told TOI Wednesday all attempts are being made to cut the waiting period through steps such as increasing consular staffing and prioritising certain visa types.
“The US Department of State is committed to facilitating legitimate travel to the US… (It) is reducing appointment wait times in all visa classes as quickly as possible, worldwide. Visa processing is rebounding after a near-complete shutdown and freezing of resources during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“As part of this recovery, the US government is prioritising national interest and repeat travel (for applicants who have already had a US visa), which may mean that some travellers applying for their first visitor visa experience a longer wait time. Examples of priority groups include students, temporary agricultural workers, other workers and key business travellers,” the spokesperson added.

The wait time and backlog are being sought to be reduced by “actively addressing consular staffing gaps created by the pandemic, including by onboarding and training new employees”, he said. “The Department of State has doubled consular hiring of US officers this fiscal year over last year, and newly trained employees are making their way to overseas consular adjudicator positions, including in India.”
A British high commission spokesperson said despite a spike in applications, there is a surge in grant of visas. “We are currently experiencing significant demand for visit visas as we all resume international travel after the pandemic. The UK continues to be a popular destination for Indian nationals and following the pandemic, we’ve seen the most substantial increase in demand for visitor visas from India. Statistics released earlier this year showed over 106,000 visitor visas were granted to Indian nationals from April 2021 to March 2022, a 328% increase over the previous year,” the spokesperson told TOI.
A Canadian high commission spokesperson said: “In spite of the pandemic, the government of Canada was still able to make over half a million (5 lakh) decisions and welcomed over 405,000 new permanent residents in 2021 — the greatest number of newcomers in a year in Canadian history. Of those, about 32% were Indian nationals…. In the first five months of 2022, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) received about 123,500 study permit applications from Indian residents, 55% more than what was received during the same period in 2019.”

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