Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs Donald Heflin shares insights on the visa process and appointments.
Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs Donald Heflin (right) says the U.S. Mission is working on reducing wait times for visa appointments. (Background photo: ALFSnaiper/iStock/Getty Images)
The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India continue to prioritize student visa applicants and issued a record 82,000+ student visas this summer. There are now more Indian students heading to the United States this year than students from any other part of the world, contributing to our strong ties in the fields of education and technology. In a live discussion on the U.S. Mission’s social media platforms in September 2022, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs Donald Heflin answered questions submitted by users on visa wait times, current operating status, and visa processing in consular sections across India. The conversation included queries about student, business, tourist and work visas.
Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
How is the U.S. Embassy planning to reduce the wait times for appointments in India?
We are working to reduce the wait time in several ways. The first, and most important, thing we’re doing is increasing our staffing. We’re at about 70 percent of our pre-COVID staffing levels now. A number of team members will be arriving in the next few months and we hope to be at 100 percent staffing before this time next year. In the meantime, Washington is sending additional interviewers from the United States and other large embassies to India temporarily to help fill staffing gaps.
Second, we continue to leverage expanded interview waiver authorities.
These steps should enable us to reach the point where the wait time stops growing and we are able to start reducing the queue.
When can we expect the next set of appointments opening up for students?
Student visa appointments will be prioritized from late November until the end of December this year. Interview waiver appointments for these dates have already opened and we’ll open the first tranche of in-person appointments in October. The remainder will open in November.
The DS-160, which is the online nonimmigrant visa application form, has specific travel plans mentioned as part of the application. But appointments are much further into the future than what might have been planned. What should the person do?
We understand you don’t have your plans finalized yet. Just make your best guess and be as honest as you can. You will not be penalized if your eventual travel plans have changed from what you originally wrote on your DS-160 form, as long as those plans are still allowable under the visa class for which you are applying.
Can applicants for F-2 visas, the nonimmigrant visas for the immediate family of F-1 student visa holders, apply for an expedite when their F-1 spouse is on OPT, but doesn’t have a program start date?
Emergency appointments are very limited due to the volume of requests we’re experiencing right now. So you are unlikely to qualify for an expedite based on family separation. Generally speaking, emergency processing is for cases involving medical emergencies, for yourself or an immediate family member, or for a humanitarian situation like a death in the immediate family. Please read more on our website to make sure your case qualifies before making a request.
Can you get an expedited appointment if you’re applying for a J-1 visa to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs?
It depends on the program. There are some types of J-1—such as travel to complete a medical residency—that we would certainly accept. Others will require more review.
What about students who have been previously refused a U.S. visa?
This summer we instituted a new scheduling method in which previously refused applicants were only able to book appointments during the last two weeks of the season. While this method was frustrating to some of our applicants, it had a positive impact overall. Issuance rates were highest for applicants on their first interview and we were able to ensure all student applicants had a chance to apply once before some applicants got the chance to apply twice.
We’re going to use the same system again this winter and the next summer. We’ll start the season by giving everyone one chance to submit an application. Then, at the end of the season, we’ll see applicants who need a second chance.
If students lose their passport and visa while in the United States, can they apply for a U.S. visa via drop box when they travel back to India? Or will they need an in-person appointment?
The answer is the same for an applicant for any type of visa. If you qualify for interview waiver and your previous passport or visa has been lost, stolen or damaged, you will have to interview in person for a new visa.
Some of our neighboring countries have shorter wait times for U.S. visas. Are applicants allowed to apply in a different country?
You are allowed to apply in another country, but be aware of three things as you .consider this option:
Agents use multiple accounts to book interview slots, making it difficult for individual applicants. What action is the U.S. Embassy taking to prevent this?
We’re very aware of agent booking practices and their impact on individual applicants. While using an agent is not illegal, we want to stress that you shouldn’t need an agent to book a visa appointment. One way that we level the playing field for individual applicants is by releasing appointments in bulk. This makes it easier for individuals to compete with agents to book appointments. We’ve also made some software changes that have made it difficult for agents to monopolize appointment booking.
Even if you qualify for an interview waiver, can you still interview in person?
Generally, an interview waiver appointment will be the fastest way to submit your application. However, for some applicants, an in-person appointment is appropriate—such as cases involving a death or medical emergency in the immediate family. Our recent software update allows for applicants to indicate their need for emergency processing when they book the appointment—this will route the applicants directly to in-person spots.
Will appointments for F-2 visas be opened at the same time as the F-1 visas?
Great question. In the past, whenever we talked about student visas, we included F, M and J applicants and their dependents.
Recently we’ve made a change to open J visas (for both primary applicants and their dependents) separately. This allows us to accommodate different start dates for many of the exchange programs.
Click here to see the full Q&A session