Prominent US lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to prioritise the resolution of the visa wait time issue in the country.
Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Michael Waltz, Co-Chair of the House India Caucus, have emphasised the significance of the people-to-people relationship between the United States and India.
The lawmakers raised concerns during separate Congressional hearings on Consular Affairs Budget, questioning top State Department officials about the prolonged visa wait times of up to 600 days faced by individuals in India.
Senator Menendez acknowledged the strong ties between the US and India, highlighting India’s participation in the Quad and the ongoing engagement in shared geostrategic interests.
He also appreciated the State Department’s efforts to reduce wait times for first-time B1-B2 visa applicants in India, acknowledging the presence of a significant number of Indian Americans and their families in New Jersey.
“But despite that progress this past year, India continues to face the longest wait times globally with average wait times for an appointment for the first time B1-B2 applicant ranging between 450 and 600 days. Could you please speak to me as to why that is the case? Why does it take up to 600 days for an adjudication?” Menendez asked during a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
According to Senator Menendez, the Indo-US relationship holds immense significance as one of the most consequential economic, diplomatic, and security partnerships in the 21st century.
During a hearing by the House Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Waltz, who serves as the co-chair of the US India Caucus, expressed his view that the Indo-US relationship is one of the most significant economic, diplomatic, and security partnerships in the 21st century.
He noted that despite India having a considerable number of consular affairs officers, ranking second or third globally, there is a consistent and concerning issue regarding visa wait times. Congressman Waltz highlighted that Indian Americans and Indian colleagues frequently express their frustration regarding this matter.
“The data that I have is that the average waiting period in Mumbai, India was 587 calendar days. With our trade over USD 150 Billion with the consequential relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming for a state dinner and visit just this month, what are we doing to fix this. Have you looked at any India specific policy fast tracks or issues?” he asked.
He raised concerns about the visa delays and their potential impact on the business relationship. Congressman Waltz suggested exploring the possibility of a quad umbrella or bubble to address critical business relationships.
He pointed out that the delays in visa processing have significant consequences, citing the estimated impact of USD 8 billion in trade conferences, events, and visitors, which affects around 250,000 jobs in his state of Florida.
Waltz inquired about the actions being taken to resolve this issue.
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Rena Bitter told the lawmakers at the two different Congressional hearings that the State Department is working hard on it and has taken several steps to address this issue.
“India is a place where we have historically had high demand for visas and there’s just a tremendous amount of pent-up demand. One of the things about India is that every post is unique, but they also had a really devastating bout with Covid 19 quite late and so that their ability to meet the pent-up demand lasted quite a bit longer,” she said.
The wait times for visas have been significantly reduced by approximately two-thirds.
Bitter also mentioned that various measures have been implemented to address this issue. This includes opening dedicated appointment slots for Indian nationals at other posts, ensuring their specific travel needs are met.
Additionally, Bitter highlighted the high productivity in visa adjudication in India, with a target of processing 1 million visas in the country this year.
The State Department remains focused on reducing wait times further and acknowledges the importance of addressing these concerns, she said.