Earlier today, there was a Facebook Live session with the Head of US Consulates in India Mr. Don Heflin. In that session, he outlined the US Embassy & Consulates’ current situation and plans for the rest of 2022 and 2023.
In this article, we will summarize the key points and guidance given by him regarding the US Visa appointments situation in India for various visa types. As a background, you may also read the summary of US Consulates situation in India from his May 2022 Facebook Live.
We have summarized the overall guidance given by Mr. Don Helfin and his team in sections by general guidance and by visa type for easy review.
General Guidance on US Consulates Operations in India for 2022 and 2023
- US Consulates in India are operating at about 70% capacity now, they were about 50% during COVID. The recovery from COVID-related staff shortages is progressing well.
- US Consulates plan to be at full capacity with an operating capacity of 100% before September 2023. So, we may expect the ramp-up to be done in the next few months.
- Based on discussions between India’s External Affairs Minister and the US Secretary of State, there will be help coming from Washington to help ease the backlog and tight situation with US Visa appointments
- Washington plans to send temporary Consular Officers to India to help with the extreme demand and clear out the backlogs piled up due to COVID.
- The issues with COVID-related visa appointments backlogs are not just in India, it is across the globe. They suggest checking similar consulates that handle a high volume of cases like in Mexico or Brazil to get an idea.
- MRV Fee Valid for 365 Days: The US Visa Appointment application Fee (also called MRV Fee) for payments that will be made from October 1st, 2022 will be valid for 365 days. All the applicants must schedule an appointment using that fee receipt within 365 days from the date they actually made the payment.
- Example: If you made Payment for the application fee on October 1st, 2022, you need to book an appointment before October 1st, 2023. Your MRV fee receipt will not be valid after October 1st, 2023 if you do not book a slot.
- MRV Fee paid Before Oct 1st, 2022: All the US Visa Appointment Fee payments done before October 1st, 2022 are valid until September 30th, 2023. This is previous guidance and still holds good.
- No need for an appointment to be within 365 Days: There is no requirement that the appointment must be within the 365 days window, it can be anytime. Just that you need to book an appointment before 365 days. See the below screenshot for actual guidance they shared on the US Embassy website.
- Example: Let’s say you make payment on October 1st, 2022, then you need to book an appointment before Oct 1st, 2023. Imagine, if you find a slot for January 2024 or May 2025, you can book those appointments and they will be valid. There is no relationship or dependency between your MRV Fee validity with the visa appointment date you booked.
Emergency or Expedite Appointments, Changes to System
- Getting a lot of Expedite Appointments: They say that they are getting a few hundred expedite appointment requests a week and will not be able to honor all of them. You need to have a valid reason that falls into the category of emergency as outlined by them on the website like the death of an immediate family member or medical emergency, including critical business meetings, etc.
- Change to Appointment System: If you qualify for a dropbox appointment, currently, it is not very straightforward to request an emergency appointment as the system does not have that feature. They are changing the software to enable an option for dropbox applicants to request expedited or emergency appointments as well. This will be rolled out in the next week or so.
H1B, L1, H4, and L2 Visas Appointments – Dropbox and Regular Updates for 2023
- 100K H and L Visa Appointments: US Consulates plan to open about 100,000 appointments for the year 2023 in the next few weeks. Most of these appointments will be primarily for the dropbox or renewal applicants. Also, they will open slots for regular first-time H1B visa stamping applicants as well, along with them. These 100K slots will be available for H1B, H4, L1, and L2 visa applicants.
- How to book a H/L appointment: They suggest checking every 2 or 3 hours in the next few weeks to get an appointment. These slots will be mainly opening in October, so keep tabs on the system and do not overcheck as it will lock you out.
- Dropbox 48 Months from Expiry is not applicable: In order to qualify for Dropbox, for H and L Visa categories, all you need is to have a previously issued US Visa in any category. There is no specific requirement of 48 months from expiration. You can check full details and screenshots at H1B Visa Dropbox Step by Step Guide
B1/B2 Visas Appointments Situation, Outlook for 2023
- Wait Times for First time B1/B2 applicants: The wait times for first-time B1/B2 visa applicants are very high at the moment, they are working towards reducing it, but due to capacity issues, it will take time to fix the wait times.
- Dropbox for B1/B2: They say that the dropbox category for B1/B2 visa is under reasonable control and the wait times are not that bad. They will continue to release more slots as time permits.
- 48 months from Expiry for Dropbox: To utilize the dropbox or interview waiver option for renewals, your B1/B2 visa must have expired within the previous 48 months. This is still applicable for B1/B2 visa holders. Read full details at US Visa Dropbox rule of 48 Months Extended Indefinitely
- Parents Visiting Kids, Graduation Ceremonies B2: Due to a shortage of slots, they say that parents trying to get Visa appointments under an expedited category to visit their kids in the US, will not be considered emergency and will not be given Emergency appointment approval. Also, the same is the case with Graduation Ceremonies, they will not give expedited requests approvals for such cases.
F1 Visa, F2, J and M Student Visas Appointments Situation
- 82K F1 Visas issued: There were over 82,000 F1 Visas issued at US Consulates in India this Summer. This is the highest number of Indian students going to the US for studying, compared with any other country. Also, this is the highest number of F1 Visas they ever issued in the summer.
- Spring 2023 Slots: The visa appointment slots for Spring 2023 will be released in two main batches. They will release the first batch in mid-October 2022 and the second one will be released in mid to late November. They suggest to check around these times.
- F2, M, and, J Visas : The Visa appointments opened for the student category include F1, F2, M, and J Visas. So, if you are looking for F2 or other visas, you will see the slots available for the same.
- J Visa Changes: There are some changes planned for the J visa type as they are rolling and some medical professionals also use them round the year. They will plan to open up for J visa separately as well to accommodate that.
- Previously Refused F1 applicants: They plan to follow the same process like earlier this year, where all applicants will get one chance, and then they will open extra slots for refused applicants at the end. This will be applicable for next Summer 2023 appointments.
We track US Visa Appointments and Consulates Situation regularly. Check full history and latest updates at US Visa Appointments in India – Latest Updates
General Questions – Placeholder Slots, Living in the US, Siblings, Travel Plans, Agents
- No Placeholder slots: There is no placeholder slots concept anymore. All slots that you see in the appointment booking system are real appointments. If you get an appointment for January 2023 or January 2025, that is a real appointment and you can use it to attend a visa interview or drop-off documents.
- No need of a Visa, if staying in the US : If you are already in the US, you do not need a valid visa. You need a valid I-94 and maintain your status. You only need a visa, if you travel outside and re-enter America. Read What is US Visa vs. Status in America, I-94 ?
- Siblings in the US, DS-160: If you have siblings in the US, you must declare it in DS-160. The Visa Officer will consider that during making a decision. If you don’t declare it properly and when you enter the US Port of entry and go through entry procedures, you could get flagged and it will be a difficult situation for you. So, always be honest and answer it truthfully.
- Travel Plans in DS-160: When trying to fill out DS-160 you need to fill in your best approximate dates for your travel in the travel plans section. Do not try to fill something random due to the availability of the dates in the appointment system. They will not penalize you for the dates you entered in there if you did not get a slot on time for that dates.
- 221g Stuck – Email Consulate: If you have got a 221g Administrative Processing and it is stuck for a while, email the consulate with all the details, they will update you on the status. There is no estimated time that they can promise for such cases.
- Apply for US Visa in Different Country: They said that you may apply for US Visa in a different country if that consulate is giving visa appointments for third-country nationals. It is common to do this for renewals. They say it is recommended to apply for a US visa in your residence country, if you applying for the first time to show your ties to the country, etc.
- Dropbox Submission Stay in Country: Also, for dropbox submission, you need to physically present in the country to apply for dropbox, you cannot send your passport from the US to India.
- Travel Agents: They say that it is very common to use travel agents and many use them to book tickets and also visa appointments. It is not against the law for that. But, they say you should NOT be paying them money more than the appointment cost for booking it. They have some checks in place to avoid fraud done by agents. The key thing that Consulates are doing is to release a LOT of slots in bulk so that everyone can book and some of these agents cannot game the system.
- Passport Lost with Visa: They said, if you have lost your passport with US Visa in it, you will be required to attend an in-person appointment and very likely not a dropbox as they want to see the evidence and then issue a visa.
- CR1, IR-1, Other Family Based Visa Categories: They are working towards bringing the processing times for CR-1, IR-1, and other Family based categories to pre-covid levels. Most of these backlogs will be clear by next year.
Overall, the biggest takeaway is that US Consulates in India are trying hard to improve the situation. They are releasing a lot of slots and getting support from Washington. Hopefully, all of these will resolve the backlog issues in India.
What do you think of the guidance given by US Consulates? Share your thoughts in the comments section below…
You can watch the full video below