New Delhi: To address visa processing delays in India, the US Embassy said it is opening special interview slots for first-time applicants on selected Saturdays and also increasing the strength of its consular staff.
The Saturday slots were opened in the Embassy in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Hyderabad consulates to accommodate applicants who require in-person visa interviews.
In the coming months, the mission will continue to open additional slots for appointments to take place on selected Saturdays, a US Embassy statement read.
It further said that the US State Department 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 processing capacity, the US Embassy said.
The State Department is also increasing the number of consular officers permanently assigned to the Embassy and Consulates. The US Mission in India released more than 250,000 additional B1/B2 appointments.
"By this summer, the US Mission in India will be at full staffing, and we expect to be processing visas at levels from before the Covid-19 pandemic," the statement said.
The US Embassy said it has made it a priority to facilitate legitimate travel and adjudicated over 800,000 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.
According to the Embassy statement, Consulate General Mumbai currently adjudicates the most visa applications in India and is one of the largest visa operations in the world.
"Our consular teams across India are putting in the extra hours to meet the needs of international travelers and bring down wait times," said Mumbai Consular Chief John Ballard. The appointment wait time for Indians seeking a visitor visa to the US had reached over 900 days in November.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in profound reductions in US visa processing capacity, and "many of the consulates were at times only able to offer emergency services".