US unveils new scheme to ease visa renewal for Indians


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NEW DELHI: In good news to American visa applicants, US on Wednesday announced those Indians who are renewing their visas, valid or expired, within 4 years, are likely to get waiver for a personal interview.

"This new programme will permit consular officers to waive interviews for some qualified applicants who are renewing their visa within 48 months or four years, of expiration of their previous visa and within the same classification as the previous visa," Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Janice Jacobs said.

The new rules will apply to those within categories of B1, B2, C and D. Asked to specify the possible beneficiaries, Jacobs, who is in the country for the 2nd US-India Consular Dialogue, said "it will apply for tourists, business travellers, crew members and for students."

"Beginning today, our consulates in India are introducing a new programme to streamline the visa renewal process. "Over time, this programme has the potential to benefit hundreds of thousands of visa applicants here in India," she said. However, she also said not all applicants will be accepted for streamlined processing.

"India and US share mutual interest in global security and countering terrorism around the world. "So, maintaining strict security standards in our visa process is a fundamental importance to all of our citizens.

"For that reason, our consular officers may request an applicant to appear in person for interview at any time for any reason during the visa application process," she said.

"The US is committed to providing an efficient and transparent visa application process," she said adding the US wants to encourage more Indians to visit the US.

She pointed out that elimination of interview for those who qualify will save them time and money and will also free up "our resources for interviewing more first time applicants".

As per the US Embassy figures, in 2011, more than 670,000 non-immigrant visa applications were processed, an increase of 11 per cent from 2010. Asked about reports that the number of rejections for visas under L category has gone up, Jacobs said the US has issued a record number of employment-based visas.

Reports suggest the rejection rate of applications for L1 visas for Indians increased to 28 per cent of total applications during 2011, compared with 2.8 per cent in 2008.

L1 visas are temporary non-immigrant visas that allow companies to relocate foreign qualified employees to its US offices and is a major draw for Indian IT companies having operations there.

Asked if the issue of L1 visa will come up during her meeting with Indian officials, she said "we are going to discuss a wide range of issues in our Consular dialogue. And I think the issue of employment-based visa may come up. "We have issued a record number of employment based visa to Indian nationals both in H1B and L category", she said.

James Herman, Minister (Counsellor) for Consular Affairs to India, added "I think the positive message here is that if you look at employment visas at large, we have issued a record number of H visas which we believe that lot of L visa categories should have been given H visas.

"India still gets a huge portion of H visas worldwide. They also get a large percentage of L visa worldwide. We would certainly be discussing this with the government of India tomorrow", he said.

Talking about agenda of the US-India Consular Dialogue, the State Department had said "the agenda items include aligning US and Indian visa policies and children's issues. The United States encourages India's accession to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction."

Jacobs will also address American and Indian business leaders at an event sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce in India.

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