Missed weddings, late admissions; travellers share their ordeal over long US visa wait

October 21, 2022 12:58 PM

Rahul Gupta, an information technology engineer, will be attending his sister's wedding in the US in December but without his family.

Gupta has a US visa; his wife and daughter don’t; the earliest appointment they could get for a US visa interview is sometime next year.

"The major concerns are the uncertainty surrounding the booking of an appointment for the US visa interview and the expiration of the validity of the US visa processing fees," Gupta said.

According to the official US backlog report, 409,645 eligible applicants are still awaiting an interview date after the July 2022 appointment scheduling was completed, said Saurabh Arora, founder and CEO of University Living, a student housing marketplace.

The long waiting period to secure a US visa has resulted in a harrowing experience for Indians -- professionals, students and tourists -- whose travel plans are in limbo. Students, for instance, are unsure about their college admissions. Worse, there is no clarity on visa appointment dates.

"Indian travelers' and students' worst visa nightmare has come true," said Arora.

Travel and food blogger Chaitali Aggarwal's biggest concern is the money stuck in the visa processing fee. "Around Rs 28,000 is stuck as visa processing fees and we don't know what the next step will be," she said.

Aggarwal and her father applied for a US visa in March 2020 and completed the biometric process a week before a nationwide lockdown was enforced for the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When things started opening up, we wanted to get the interview part done. But now they are saying I will have to fill a new form as my job role and salary has changed, as per my last email communication with US Embassy. While they said I don't need to pay for the new application, there is no clarity on how to submit the form and not pay for it. Our agent recently told us that we might have to do the entire process again," said .

Six months ago, the parents of Muskaan Arora, a computer science student at the University of California, Irvine, wanted to pay her a visit in the US because she was unwell. They couldn't because they had a 500-day waiting period for their visa interview appointment.

Challenging situation for students

Arora said her friends, who have applied for admission in her university, were struggling because of the long US visa waiting period.

"I am a freshmen mentor to students who have applied in my college. These students are unable to get the visa and will not be eligible for fall intake (admission process between September and December). So, everybody who was expecting to reach the university by September, they had to defer it to the January intake or even like a Spring intake (January to May admission period) because they are still waiting for a visa appointment," she said.

A soaring dollar has made the situation worse. The rupee has plunged below the 82 per dollar level after the US Federal Reserve started increasing interest rates to control inflation that has reached multi-decadal highs, making the US an expensive destination for Indians in general.

Currently, the waiting time for students applying for US visas is anywhere between 415 and 444 calendar days, said Shivani Mani, head of student financing at GradRight, an education finance startup.

"There are multiple challenges for Indian students applying for a US visa. Booking slots is tedious as there are not enough slots and it is extremely difficult to track new slots. Students spend sleepless nights trying to book visa slots or they end up paying agents without any guarantee of ever getting a slot. On top of that, multiple logins to book a visa slot may also lead to the account being frozen for the next 72 hours," she said.

Students are constantly in fear of missing the start of the academic year. They are fighting an anxiety battle because there is no certainty about their visas, said Arora of University Living. He added that the long waiting period for a US visa will also affect the Indian travel industry.

Impact on Indian travellers

Tourists are opting for alternative travel destinations like South East Asia or Europe given the substantial delay in issuance of US tourist visas, said Porus Doctor, partner and consumer industry practice leader at Deloitte India.

Indians are getting appointments for January 2025 for US visitor visas, said travel agent Sunil Kumar.

"I have around 100 customers whose US visa processing is pending and around 30-35 customers have got appointment date of 2025. People who are calling me now asking for a US visa appointment, I am telling them not to go for it because 2025 is a long time and it gets difficult for me to follow up," Kumar said.

Kumar said he has to constantly reassure his customers.

Have something to say? Post your comment