US Travel Guidelines: Need to travel to the US on business or on holiday? These are the latest updates you should know about

As business, travel and the economy in general are hurtling forward in a post COVID world it seems that everyone in India wants to get a U.S. visa, joked an officer at the U.S. Consulate, Mumbai, recently. But there has been a surge in travel, especially after regular, commercial, international flights to and from India resumed at the end of March 2022.

The U.S. consular offices in India have been issuing visas throughout the pandemic except when the local regulations severely restricted certain operations in 2020 and 2021. They have been prioritizing visa appointments as directed by Presidential proclamations when they were applicable and currently as per directions from the Department of State or from the Minister Counselor Affairs stationed at the Embassy in New Delhi. All along immediate family, i.e., spouses and children have been the top priority and this continues even now.

There is a huge pent-up demand for B-1/B-2 visas, which are for temporary, non-immigrant travelers who wish to enter the U.S. for business or tourism related activities such as -negotiating contracts, exploring the country, visiting family, attending meetings or conferences, completing commercial transactions, etc.

Interview Waivers and Dropbox Appointments

Applicants who wished to renew their B visas could easily do so if their visas were either valid or had expired within the past 48 months. But even these required “dropbox” appointments, which also were and continue to be granted a few weeks later. Applicants can book these appointments at any of the 5 consular offices in India and had to drop off their applications at the VFS offices in these areas. However, the U.S. Consulates are now accepting drop box applications at any of the Document Drop-Off Locations that are listed at
USTravelDocs.

First Time Applicants

Visa appointments for first time B visa applicants, for those with prior refusals and/or for those who need a waiver are almost impossible to find at present. For many months now applicants were able to book appointments several months later but closer to the appointment date these were cancelled as they were “place holder appointments.” Place holder appointments were granted to enable applicants to request expedited appointments but if any applicant did not qualify for this his or her appointment was cancelled.

However, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India are now opening appointments across all visa categories. All applicants who applied for a B-1/B-2 visa and had their applications cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic, and all other first-time applications may look for new appointments. These are going to be available around September 2022 and onwards and scheduling will be possible around June 2022 and onwards. Please note that these appointments are not likely to be cancelled as they will not be “place holder appointments.”

Emergency Appointments

Emergency appointments are granted only if the applicant has a dire or unavoidable need to travel to the U.S. immediately. Any medical, family or business-related emergency must be explained adequately with the help of clear and strong evidence. The procedure to secure an emergency appointment requires the applicant to select the earliest available date for the appointment. Then on the ustraveldocs website, there is an option to request an emergency appointment. Granting a request for emergency appointment is completely at the discretion of the U.S. Consular officers.

Immigrant Visas

The United States Embassy and Consulates in India have also resumed certain immigrant visa services such as CR1/2, IR1/2 as well as certain non-immigrant J category visas. With new applications coming in everyday along with a massive backlog, interview appointment dates are not so easily available, although it seems that these interviews will start physically from September or at the latest by the beginning of the year 2023. Lately, in the month of February 2022, the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, India has issued 104 CR-1 visas, 674 IR-1 visas and 69 IR-2 visas. The number is likely to increase in the upcoming months as the U.S. Consulate opens up more appointments for immigrant visa applicants. There will be an additional surge in applications and since EB-5 visa processing has also resumed.

With inputs from:
Manizeh Mistry, Associate Partner at LawQuest.
Lavina Mirchandani, Legal Assistant at LawQuest.

ET Online

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