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140K visas issued by US to Indian students last year: Officials

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140K visas issued by US to Indian students last year: Officials
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Washington: The US granted over 1,40,000 visas to Indian students last year as part of the Biden administration's effort to strengthen people-to-people links with India, and it is currently taking multiple actions to shorten the time it takes to schedule visa appointments.

In an interview, Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, said US missions in India worked six, seven days a week to make sure that students could be interviewed before their classes started.

This year, the US made a huge effort to concentrate on the demand coming out of India, she said.

"We are really proud of what we have done in India this year. I think for the first time in history, we set a goal to issue one million visas in India and not only did we accomplish that, but it was done several months in advance. So, the number will go way beyond that.

"There are record-setting numbers this year for workers, crew members and students applying in India to come to the United States," she added.

Stufft further said, "We specifically made sure that we saw the students who were applying coming out of India. India is now the largest source country for foreign students in the United States, as well as many other visa categories. That's a very important one for us. We have also had a lot of cases where the interview was waived, so no interview for Indian travellers who have previously travelled and are now going back to the US." Last year, the US issued a record over 1,40,000 visas to Indian students, she said.

"For students who are applying in India, I would say the biggest thing is that the missions there have worked six, seven days a week to interview students to make sure that everyone can be interviewed before their classes start. The amount of effort and importance that we place on Indian students coming to the US is born out in the visa process. We want to make sure everyone has that chance," she said.

The US, Stufft said, is working on taking several steps to reduce the visa appointment wait time in India, which is still a bit high.

"I hope it will be (coming down) this year, meaning this fiscal year for us. But we are sending huge numbers of officers to India to manage the wait time and move them around the country as needed. I mean, it has gotten much better but it still needs to come down quite a bit," she said.

"We had a state visit recently. Everyone from the president of course, to Ambassador (Eric) Garcetti and the secretary of state is so committed to making sure that the people-to-people ties between our two countries expand. We are carrying that out in the visa process. So, we really expect more innovations and a much quicker process in the future," Stufft said.

The State Department official said anyone interested in travelling to the US for any reason should apply as soon as possible.

"If you are travelling for work-related reasons, there's another special avenue to use. There is a special channel to use so that business-related visas are also prioritised. Bear with us, I would say as we get through this.

"India is unique because it represents the highest number of visas in several categories. Not just visitors, not just students, not just maritime crew members but highly skilled workers. I mean, it is a tremendous demand across the board for us. So our priority is to get all of those wait times down," she said.

During a media round table with a group of foreign journalists organised by the Foreign Press Centre, Stufft said the US has issued more than 10.5 million visas in 2023 so far, which is 2 million more than what it had anticipated and is almost hitting the highest-ever level at its overseas missions.

"Half of our overseas missions set their own record for that country for adjudications of visas in that country. We set records for visa adjudication, for work visas and for student visas as well in some (other) categories," she said.

For 2024, the US is still working very hard on reducing wait times, Stufft said.

"In some overseas locations, we still have very high wait times, some exceeding a year still for one category of visa, which is a first-time visitor, someone who needs an interview for their visa.

"All other categories have low wait times globally, but we are very focused on the first-time visitor interview wait times and what's very interesting to us is that many of the places where we have set records for visa production this year are the same places where we still have really high wait times. This just indicates a very high level of demand and we are going to use this year to really get control of that in these five or six places with very high wait times," she said.


With PTI inputs

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