NEW DELHI: The great US visa appointment crunch has not only made it difficult for desi visa seekers to go there, but also for Indians with H-1B visas working in America to come home on personal visits. The reason: they are not getting timely appointments to get their passports stamped at US consulates in India in order to return to America. As a result, several of them are deferring visits to India.
In fact, the US Embassy spokesperson Thursday told TOI: “Petition-based visa workers without valid visas, including H-1B specialty occupation workers, should avoid leaving the United States unless they have a visa appointment and enough time for processing the visa on their trip. The US Embassy cannot expedite visa appointments unless the trip is to visit an immediate family member with a serious medical emergency or attend the funeral of an immediate family member. Such requests must be supported by documentation.”
A US-based immigration lawyer, who did not wish to be named, said: “H-1B visa is like a work permit that requires the employer to first file a petition in USA. Once the same is approved, the beneficiary needs to have the visa stamped in the home country. Visa is required for travel in and out of USA and needs to be current every time someone enters on a particular visa into USA. In case of an extension of H-1b visa approved in USA, the employee may need to get the visa stamped on the passport before re-entering USA. This happens when the previous visa in the passport has expired but employee has a new approved I-797A/ H-1B petition in USA that allows him/her to work for longer period.”
Several Indians working in the US on H-1B and their families in India spoke, on the condition of anonymity, about the difficulties they face due to long visa appointment wait times.
“If an H-1B visa holder is coming to, say, Mumbai, the passport stamping appointment can come for any city like Bengaluru, Hyderabad or Delhi. Then on a short trip a day or two — apart from lot of money — is spent in going there for the purpose,” said an IT professional.
On this issue, the US Embassy spokesperson said: “The US government does not require applicants to choose a specific location for their visa appointments. Visa applicants are free to choose the city where their visa application will be adjudicated.”
At the moment, the appointment wait time for a first-time US visa applicant in India extends right upto April 2024. A wait of a few months awaits those who are not first time applicants.
“What makes it agonising is that the both parents and children are desperate for a reunion after Covid but that intent is not translating into reality. The chaos is at both ends. Children (working in US on H-1B) are not able to visit India. Parents here are not being able to be with their children in USA because of excruciatingly long visa appointment dates. Only zoom and video calls keep us going even as we bemoan the prolonged separation,” said a Mumbai-based father of a professional working in the US.
As a result, H-1B visa holders are forced to skip important functions or medical emergencies back home for the fear of getting stuck in India if they come without a prior consulate appointment. “My Washington-based software engineer daughter-in-law wants to attend her sister’s wedding in Gurugram but is likely to miss the event because she has failed to secure an appointment date even after trying for six months. If she leaves the US to attend the wedding, she runs the risk of losing her job if she’s not able to make it back to the US within a certain period of time,” said her father-in-law.
“A pregnant person wanted her mother to be with her but she couldn’t be with her because she did not get a visa date in India. A software engineer’s mother had a serious foot injury in Noida. He wanted to visit her but couldn’t for want of an appointment date. The earliest stamping date he was getting was in December,” said relatives of these people.
“When an applicant visited the visa Centre in May at Delhi, three out of 11 counters were functional. Last week, as per an applicant, only two counters were functional. Shortage of staff is being allowed to continue without effective measures being taken,” said a person who is looking forward to meeting his engineer son in the US.