As many of you know, US has banned travelers from India since May 4th, if you have stayed in India for 14 consecutive days before your travel. You need to be part of exceptions or get a National Interest Exception (NIE) to travel to US. Due to COVID situation, US Consulates in India are operating in very limited fashion with very few appointments to apply for US Visa . You can check the US Visa Stamping in India Updates, Timeline article to get an idea of the overall situation since COVID started in March 2020.
Now, many of you want to go back to US and either start your higher education, go back to your job, or go visit your family. With the COVID situation in India, the US Consulates are operating in very limited fashion. Yesterday, there was a call with Mr. Don Heflin, who is the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs in US Embassy India to discuss on the situation of US Visa appointments in India. He is basically the head of operations for all US Consulates in India and makes decisions on when they would open appointments, how long, how many, what to prioritize etc. It is a 1-hour call, we have listed to the same and summarized it below for everyone’s benefit.
Below is the summary of the US Visa Appointments Status and situation as answered by Mr. Don Heflin in the call.
General Guidance for All Visa Appointments
- Priority for someone with cancelled appointment: No priority will be given as such for anyone whose appointments were cancelled for whatever reason. They need to book again when slots open at consulates.
- Can system schedule appointments for Cancelled Appointment : No, system will not be able to do it automatically. Everyone has to find a slot and re-book their appointment, if cancelled for any reason.
- What are the main visa appointments prioritized : For the next two months, which is July and August, the priority will be for F1 students attending classes in Fall 2021. Other visa categories like H1B, H4, J1, Others will all be secondary focus.
- When will the Travel Ban based on Proclamation end : There is no estimate for this and it will be done at higher level by different authorities in consultation with CDC. The consulates have no control on it.
- System Issues with Booking, How many times : They did not specially say how many times you can check in a day or why you would get US Visa booking system errors . They suggest not to check often and get locked. The policies are global and check only as needed. Do not hit refresh many times, it can block your access and they cannot unlock it before the specified time.
- What time will US Visa Appointment Slots open : Usually during the start of the business day. No specific time was mentioned. Definitely no need to be up in the middle of the night to book slots.
- Where to book – Any consulate or only nearest : The recommendation is to book slots closer to where you live. But, there is no restriction as such, if you want to book in other locations as needed.
- Vaccination, Quarantine for Travel : There is no rule that says you need vaccination to travel. Many of these are guidelines given by CDC and you should check CDC on latest status. Check with Airlines or the school on the guidance and follow. In general the process is below as of today
- You need negative RT-PCR test 72 hours before travel
- They suggest you take another test after 3 to 4 days after you arrive in US
- There is no mandatory quarantine by CDC
- There is no mandatory vaccination need by CDC for travel.
- Vaccination for Visa Appointments : There is no rule as such for now to go for visa stamping. You need to follow all the process and guidelines given by consulate or embassy, so check with them.
- Virtual Visa Interviews : They cannot do virtual visa interviews over Zoom or other conference mechanisms. There are rules in place and they are mandated to interview the person and then only issue the visa.
- Emergency Appointment(EA) Request Rejection : If your EA request gets rejected, it will not have any impact on your existing appointment that is for a later date. It will continue to be valid.
- US Consulates and Embassy limits due to COVID : They are going back to levels like in December 2020, all will be spaced about 6 feet, sanitizer and all will be there for safety. They are currently short on the capacity of Consular officers with about 50%, so that’s why less slots.
- Travel Booking : Avoid booking flights with a stop in Europe as they have strict policies around quarantine and there is travel ban as well. So, plan your travel without stop in Europe.
F1 Visa Appointments Booking, Interviews, NIE in India Consulates
- They plan to start intensive 2 months visa appointments window for F1 Students attending Fall 2021 semester starting from July 1st , 2021.
- How many Appointments: The goal is to interview as many F1 students as they did in year 2019 before the pandemic.
- When will F1 appointments be opened: Starting from Monday June 14th, 2021 they plan to open tens of thousands of student visa (F1) appointments for July and August.
- Will all F1 slots be opened once or in next weeks too : First major batch will be opened Monday, June 14th. They will later open some more before July 1st and August 1st . They are keeping about 25% reserved slots.
- When can F1 students travel to US : Student traveling to US with degree program start date from Aug 1st, can travel 30 days before that date. If your start date is let’s say August 10th, you can travel on or after July 10th.
- Do F1 students need NIE Approval :
- If the program start date is on or after August 1st, 2021, then you do not need an explicit NIE approval from the consulates. The NIE is not required only for someone attending Fall 2021 program.
- If you plan to enter US for summer term, either new or continuing student, then you will need to get NIE from the consulate.
- The NIE for F1 students is blanket and does not need individual exceptions, if program start date is after Aug 1st, 2021.
- Parents Planning to Travel on B1/B2 with F1 students : There will not be any NIE given for B1/B2 visitor Visas, even if you have valid visa to travel with F1 student.
- Priority for someone with cancelled F1 appointments : No priority will be given as such for anyone whose appointments were cancelled. All will be the same and need to book when the slots open on June 14th, 2021.
- Would the Consulate book slots for previously cancelled F1 slots : No, you need to book a new slot. The system will not be able to do that.
- F1 interviews with previous 221gs : They will continue to process 221gs givens for F1 visas. You can check with consulate as needed.
- F1 OPT, CPT Travel: If you plan to arrive in US to continue working on OPT or CPT, same rules apply and you need NIE, if you have to travel before August 1st. Same F1 rules apply for OPT and CPT as well as the Aug 1st date.
- US Port of Entry Location on F1: You are free to enter any city of your choice on F1 visa. Does not have to be in the same state, where your school is located. You just need to tell the US CBP officer your reason at the US Port of Entry Procedures during entry to US.
- Letter from School : No need to have any letter from school that tells that your classes will be in person for visa interview
- Electronic I-20 : Electronic i20 provided by schools are accepted by the embassy. Get it printed and carry it with you.
- Check at the end section for Visa interview tips for F1
H1B, H4 Visa Appointments, NIE Requests
- Limited Slots, NIE Only: Current priority is for F1 students and H1B Slots will be given based on NIE only.
- Limited slots would be opened.
- You need to apply for Emergency Appointment and qualify for NIE.
- You can request NIE under Vital Support for Critical Infrastructure Sectors
- H1B Dropbox : They plan to open limited visa slots for H1B Visa Dropbox for visa renewals starting from Monday June 14th, 2021.
- H4 Visa Slots – Family Separation: On a case by case basis, they are given EA and NIE approvals for H4 visa appointments as well, if their family is in US.
- When will more slots open for H1B : The focus on H1B and work visa will be after the Students appointments are done for fall starting from September 2021. They expect to open more slots around that time.
L1, L2 Visa Appointments, NIE Requests
- When L1, L2 Visa Appointments opening : Not on the top of the priority, will look at them later similar to the H1B on a case by case basis
- NIE, EA appointments: The main option for L1, L2 visa holders is to request for NIE and raise Emergency Appointment as needed. Similar to H1B, you need to fall under critical infra sectors or other exceptions reasons.
B1/B2 Appointments, Travel on NIE
- US Consulates in India will not open slots for B1/B2 Visa holders
- NIE will be given on a very limited basis for B1/B2 visa holders to travel to the US based on situation.
- General purpose travel on B1/B2 for attending seminars, meetings F1 students, etc. will not get NIE approvals.
Misc. Notes – J1, F1 Interview Prep
- J1 physicians who cannot get appointment should ask for Emergency Appointment and indicate that they are in medical field to get the EA approval.
- F2 visa exempted like F1 within 30 days ?
- Yes, they can and will be exempted like F1 visa holders. Dependents will be exempted for F1.
- Main Documents needed F1
- Documents on how to finance your education
- If sibling in US, will it impact F1 Stamping outcome ?
- It will not impact. Should be fine.
- Finance documents for F1
- Bank Statement
- Credit Card Statements
- I20, if fully funded.
- Lot of the times, these may not be asked, but may be checked as needed.
- Property Records (sometimes)
- Fully funded students do not need to show financial proofs during Visa interview. If i20 has it mentioned, it is enough?
What do you think of the updates from US Embassy ? Share your thoughts in comments below
Reference : Watch the Recording of the Session by US Embassy India