With an aim to cut delays in visa processing in India, the US has launched new initiatives, including scheduling special interviews for first-time applicants and increasing the strength of consular staff.
As part of the multi-pronged approach to cut the visa backlog, the US embassy in Delhi and the consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad conducted "special Saturday interview days" on January 21.
"On January 21, the US mission in India launched the first in a series of special Saturday interview days, as part of a larger effort to reduce wait times for first-time visa applicants," the US embassy said on Sunday.
"The United States Embassy in New Delhi and Consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad all opened consular operations on Saturday to accommodate applicants who require in-person visa interviews," it said in a statement.
The mission will continue to open "additional slots" for appointments to take place on select Saturdays in the coming months. "These additional interview days are just one component of a multi-pronged initiative to address the backlog in visa processing caused by COVID-19," it said.
It said the US State Department has implemented remote processing of interview waiver cases for applicants with previous US visas.
Between January and March 2023, dozens of temporary consular officers from Washington and other embassies will arrive in India to increase visa processing capacity, it said.
The US mission in India released more than 2,50,000 additional B1/B2 appointments. While B1 is a business visa, B-2 is tourism visa.
The mission said the Consulate General in Mumbai also extended its weekday operating hours to make space for additional appointments. "By this summer, the US mission in India will be at full staffing, and we expect to be processing visas at levels from prior to the COVID-19 pandemic," the embassy said.
The statement said as travel restrictions have been lifted, the mission to India has made it a priority to facilitate legitimate travel and adjudicated over 8,00,000 non-immigrant visas in 2022, including record numbers of both student and employment visas.
"In every other visa category, interview wait times in India are at pre-pandemic levels or lower," it said.
Consulate General Mumbai currently adjudicates the most visa applications in India and is one of the largest visa operations in the world, the embassy said. Our consular teams across India are putting in the extra hours to meet the needs of international travellers and bring down wait times, said Mumbai Consular Chief John Ballard.
This is part of a Mission wide effort to find innovative solutions to facilitate travel to the United States, the official said.