Indian students and visitors going to the US can soon expect more visa appointment slots and processing centres as its consulates are making a big push to reduce the wait time. US consul general in Mumbai Mike Hankey, in an exclusive interview to TOI in Pune on Tuesday, said, “We are trying to speed up the renewal process, we have given first priority to students and categories like those who are going on medical emergencies and for business reasons.
For first-time travellers, we are releasing lakhs of new appointments every few months.” The consulates have also implemented remote processing of interview waiver cases (renewals) for applicants with previous US visas, he added. The new facility in Hyderabad that will soon become fully staffed is expected to process about 3,500 visa applications a day and will be Asia’s biggest visa processing consulate. Two more consulates will soon open in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru, Hankey said. The visa application process for Indian students is being streamlined. “We have specifically prioritised them, giving every student an appointment for the visa interview before the date when their studies start. We started that last year and we have stuck with it this year,” Hankey added. He also emphasized the need for students to file their visa applications on their own or with free assistance from the Education USA office, rather than going through agents. New rules for F, M, J categories in student visa have been made to prevent fraud and abuse of the appointment system. According to the Open Doors Report released earlier this month, a high 2,68,923 Indian students, a 35% increase, went to the US in the academic year 2022-23. On how both countries can collaborate on the business front, Hankey said that US firms can co-produce and co-develop in India. “The bilateral relations between India and US are better than ever. It’s the students and businesses that are making people-to-people connections. I see nothing but growth for business,” he added. Pune offers many opportunities for business, the consul general said. “It has an auto cluster and is developing as an EV cluster. It can make the transition. I see opportunities in cutting-edge technologies for new ties,” he added. Hankey, who has held several diplomatic posts, has worked extensively in the Middle East. On the current situation in Gaza, he said, “Hamas’s terrorism has no place in the world today. It was a horrendous attack on October 7. We stand by Israel’s right to defend itself. It is heartening to see progress on the return of hostages and the steps that can be taken to reduce civilian casualties on all sides.”