WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (PTI) — People-to-people ties are the cornerstone of India-US relations and addressing visa wait times is crucial to sustaining the relationship, a senior government official said here.
Reducing visa wait times is a top priority for Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Nancy Jackson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, told Indian journalists at a roundtable organized by the State Department with India and the Foundation for Diaspora Studies (FIIDS) on Tuesday.
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“When I look at this relationship, what strikes me is that the people-to-people relationship between our two countries is really the cornerstone of one of the most important relationships we have in the world, and that is the US-India relationship. We This cannot be emphasized enough. So addressing the visa wait times that we have been facing is critical not only to maintaining these human connections, but also to expanding those connections,” Jackson said.
FIIDS has been working with the Biden administration over the past few months to address various issues facing Indian-Americans, especially visa wait times.
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“This is the number one issue we face right now. We are absolutely committed to getting us out of a situation where anyone seeking a visa appointment or visa in India has to wait a long time. This is certainly not our ideal,” said Consular Affairs Director Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julie Stafford said.
The State Department has taken several steps to reduce visa wait times, she said. These include the growing number of visa interview categories being waived, the sending of dozens of officials to India for interviews, the screening of visa applications by U.S. State Department officials, which also involves officials from other diplomatic missions, and the far-reaching in Thailand. Open embassies and missions with other countries in Germany to provide interview opportunities for Indian visa applicants.
“For appointments for first-time visitors, we’ve already cut the wait time by one year and two months. Now, the second year we cancel is going to be harder than the first year, but we’ll get there,” she said.
“The wait times for all non-visitor visa types — students, workers, anyone who has been to the U.S. before — are very, very short. Our wait times for H-1b and F visas (students) are comparable to visitor wait times six months ago .We lowered those categories,” Stufft said.
“We’ve reduced the wait time for people who don’t need an interview. We’ve made a lot of progress on that. Just because of the sheer volume of visitor visa applications, which is our biggest category in the world, and of course in India, we still have a wait time,” she said.
“Also, we’ve given up on interviewing any repeat travelers,” Stufft said.
She noted that more could be done. “Because we waived interviews for a large number of Indian visa applicants, we could have those cases handled by people all over the world, not just in India. So now, today, we have dozens of officers all over the world and here in Washington, Right down the street processing Indian visas on behalf of our delegation in India,” the State Department official said.
This way, they can focus on the people they need to interview in India. “And we can have other people focus on those who don’t need to be interviewed. So, someone in China can do the Indian cases, which are printed in India and sent back locally. That helps us a lot,” Stuft said .
“We’ve also opened up other missions, which is actually unprecedented. We’ve asked other U.S. embassies to accept Indian visa applicants, especially if they choose to travel there. The biggest place we’re doing this right now is Bangkok. Thailand It’s where Indian citizens don’t need a visa. Anyone can go to Bangkok even with a visit visa appointment,” she said.
Observing that anyone has to leave their home country to go to a U.S. visa appointment is not an ideal situation, she said at the same time, it is very useful. Among other things, the U.S. mission in Frankfurt allows people who might be traveling in the U.S. to go there instead of traveling thousands of miles home, she said, adding that it does help visas for people who urgently need to travel with tourists.
“We’ve seen that it really works. In the past few months, Indian citizens have applied to more than a hundred different US embassies abroad, many of them from India. So this is what people are doing. take advantage of something,” Stuft said.
The U.S. has also sent dozens of staff to India to process visa applications. They work weekends and shifts during the week, she said. “Because they’re there, we’ve made some pretty incredible progress,” she said.
As a result of these measures, Stufft said the US is issuing 36% more visas than in normal times before the pandemic in India. That number is expected to rise over time, she asserts.
“We’re devoting all our resources to this, and we’re seeing progress,” Jackson said, stressing that this is one of the State Department’s top priorities as its relationship with India strengthens.
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)