Washington, Feb 22: The US said that it had issued 36 per cent more visas to Indians so far this year than in pre-Covid-19 pandemic times because of "number one priority" being accorded to cutting of wait-time that has included unprecedented steps such as remote processing of applications from India, sometimes all the way in Washington D.C.
The longest wait time, typically for first-time visitors, is down from over 1,000 days to about 580, as a result of such measures that also include interview waiver for repeat visitors, additional staffing at consular operations in Indian missions and "Super Saturdays" when mission staff just process visas all day.
From summer stateside renewal of visas will be allowed in some categories on a pilot basis.
"It is the number one priority that we're facing right now," said Julie Stufft, the senior official of the State Department's consular operations, told reporters while referring to the extraordinary delays in the processing of US visas in India.
"We are absolutely committed to getting us out of the situation where people -- anyone in India -- seeking a visa appointment or a visa would have to wait a lengthy time at all. That's certainly not our ideal."
As a result of these efforts so far this year, Stufft said further" "We've issued 36 per cent more visas than we did before the pandemic in India. Just to say that again, 36 per cent more visas processed now than during the before the pandemic in normal times and that is a huge percentage increase and I think it will actually go up as the year goes on. It's only February."
Long waiting times for US visa processing post-pandemic, specially for first-time visitors, have become a key issue in the bilateral relationship and it was raised by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at the last 2+2 meeting between the two countries' Foreign and Defence Ministers in Washington D.C. last September.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had assured him then that the US had a plan to address the issue.