The U.S. Embassy in India announced, on September 5, 2012, that it is implementing a new visa processing system at all U.S. consular posts in India. The new system will streamline and standardize the visa application procedures for all applicants, including those who are still required to attend interviews, by simplifying fee payment and appointment scheduling. This new initiative is being implemented in conjunction with the earlier Interview Waiver Program (IWP), introduced in March 2012, in an effort to improve consular services to meet increased visa demand in India.
New Visa Processing System
Effective September 26, 2012, under this new system, U.S. visa applicants are able to schedule visa appointments through a new website. The new system facilitates the payment of visa application fees and completion of application forms, provides information about required documents for visa interviews, and allows applicants to schedule their appointments either online or, for the first time, by telephone. The new system also includes additional payment options, including payment by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT), mobile telephone, or in cash at branches of Axis Bank and Citibank. In addition, the new program provides new delivery options for passports, visas, immigrant visa packets, and other documents.
A significant change to the previous system is that first-time applicants, and possibly some renewal applicants, are now required to schedule two appointments. One appointment is for fingerprint collection and one for a consular interview. Prior to their visa interviews, visa applicants will have to visit an Offsite Facilitation Center (OFC) to submit their fingerprints and a photograph. OFCs are in locations separate from the embassies and consulates in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai.
Interview Waiver Program
The IWP permits consular officers to waive interviews for nonimmigrant visa applicants who were interviewed in connection with a previously approved visa application. These applicants are allowed to renew their visas without another interview provided they meet the following criteria:
- The applicant is within the same classification as the previous visa.
- The applicant currently holds, or previously held, a B-1/B-2, C-1D, J-2, L-2, or H-4 visa.
- The visa is valid or recently expired (expired within 48 months of the expiration of the previously held visa if the applicant is applying for a B-1/B-2 or C-1D visa, or expired within 12 months if applying for a J-2, L-2, or H-4 visa).
- The applicant’s previous visa was issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in India.
- The applicant is applying for the visa in the consular district where his or her passport will be delivered.
- The applicant has not been refused a visa in any category following the most recent visa issuance.
- The applicant’s prior visa is not annotated “Clearance Received.”
Applicants with visas that were issued before January 1, 2008 may be required to submit fingerprints at a consular station.
Embassies and consulates in India have been instructed to begin implementing this pilot program with immediate effect. Consular officers will retain the authority to interview any applicant should they determine that a personal appearance is required.
Impact on Employers and Visa Applicants
For planning purposes, nonimmigrant visa applicants and their employers should anticipate potential delays due to the need for two separate appointments as well as any processing errors as this new system is implemented. It is also as yet unclear how the new visa processing system will impact the Business Executive Program (BEP), an initiative that facilitates frequent and legitimate business travel by providing qualified BEP members with special access to a priority visa interview appointment calendar, expedited visa processing for employees on the day of the interview, and access to a dedicated BEP Helpdesk. Ogletree Deakins is monitoring developments with respect to this new system and will provide additional information as it becomes available.