Delay in getting dates from US Embassy hits travel plans of H-1B visa holders

Thousands of Indians in the US who are on H-1B visas are facing challenges in planning international travel, including visiting family in India, because they need a valid visa stamp on their passports before they travel back to the US.

There are long delays in getting dates at the US embassy and consulates, even if many of them are eligible for interview waivers.

Besides the issue of unavailability of dates for visa interviews or even for submitting documents in cases where interviews are being waived off, there is a risk of administrative delays or security checks that could delay the processing time of H-1B visas further.

Shalini Kumar (name changed) is an example. She works in an IT firm in Texas and has been on an H-1B visa for eight years. Kumar hasn’t visited her parents in Bengaluru since the pandemic and is now trying hard to get a drop box appointment since she needs to get a visa stamp before she goes back to the US after her visit.

There are no dates available for the next few months and so she cannot plan the trip. Her situation is further complicated because her son, who is on H4 dependent visa, is now above 14 years old and is not eligible for a visa interview waiver. Getting an interview date for him is proving even more tough and there are no dates available yet on the online booking system. Kumar doesn’t know when she will finally be able to meet her parents again.

“Even for drop-box applications, in case of visa interview waivers, H-1B visa holders who travel to India, need appointments to drop off the paperwork. Appointments are not readily available. Before travelling to India, they should, in fact, check for appointments frequently so that they can book one when dates do become available. More appointments are likely to become available in the ensuing weeks and especially in August-September 2022 and onwards,” explains immigration lawyer Poorvi Chothani.

Currently, several non-immigration visa applicants applying for US visas may be eligible for interview waivers if they meet certain criteria.

These waivers apply to temporary workers who need H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, or Q visas subject to certain conditions, and provided they are applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.

These waivers also apply to qualifying students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). However, even those applicants who qualify for interview waivers require drop box appointments and before getting these appointments they cannot travel to India.

“The ongoing visa interview waivers are going to be available through the end of 2022 and is expected to reduce visa wait times significantly. Applicants who need to renew a visa in the same category as a visa that expired within 12 months prior to the new visa application date have been eligible for interview waivers (subject to certain conditions) even in the past. The big difference now is that the applicant can apply for a new visa category and must have held any valid non-immigrant visa within the past 48 months,” Chothani said.

However, since drop-box appointments are not readily available at the diplomatic posts in India, an applicant would need to repeatedly check for the appointments, and this could defeat ‘reducing visa wait times’ which was the objective for this new waiver criteria, adds Chothani. However, the good news is that things are improving – consular officers in India have promised incremental appointments in the forthcoming weeks but more so from July 2022 onwards.

“My advice to H-1B visa holders who are planning to travel to India, and need a visa stamp, is not to travel unless they have a firm appointment in the near future, because appointments that are issued for a date several weeks away are likely to be cancelled,” Chothani said.

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