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Hassle-free US visas for students
George Iype |
October 04, 2005
The Indian rush for US visas has prompted the American embassy to overhaul the process of visa applications, especially for students travelling to the United States for further studies. In fact, they will now given priority as per the new visa regulations formulated by the US Consulate General for Indian applicants.
If you are a student and have already applied for a visa application appointment with the US consulate in Chennai, for instance, it is likely that your scheduled date would come in March next year. But your enrollment date at your US university is scheduled within the next four weeks.
Don't worry. Now, all you need to do is take an emergency appointment at any of the US consulates across the country. You could also take this appointment by logging on to the consulate Web sites.
The US has four consular offices in India: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
The visa concessions to the Indian student community are part of the new US visa regulations that came into force in the country on October 3.
According to the new norms, visa fees will have to be paid in advance and will be non-refundable. They cannot be transferred to any other applicant, except with special permission from the embassy, says Counselor for Consular Affairs in India William Bartlett.
David S Feldmann, vice consulate general, Chennai, says the new system will considerably reduce the waiting period as far as the interview for the visa application is concerned.
"The main difference in the new system is that the categories would be self-selected. Earlier, applicants had to send e-mails describing their purpose of visit, which were scrutinised by the consulate. Now, the applicant can do the categorisation himself by following the criteria prescribed on the Web site," he says.
The Visa Facilitation Service will now provide US visa services throughout India.
Under the new arrangement, the non-immigrant visa application fees of $100 (Rs 4,400) will have to be paid before booking an appointment for an interview.
The fees, along with Rs 276 towards visa-related services -- it was earlier Rs 441 -- can be paid at any of the 32 branches of HDFC Bank in 12 cities across the country (check http://www.vfs-usa.co.in/ for list of the HDFC Bank branches authorised to accept the visa application fee).
When going to pay the fee, you will need to carry a photocopy of the first page of your passport with you.
Take your visa application appointment two days after the fee receipt has been issued b the bank; the receipt won't be activated before that.
The receipt is valid for one year from the date of issue; it will be deemed as utilised after the interview takes place. You cannot use the same receipt to fix up a fresh appointment for a fresh interview.
At present, visa application fees can be paid at the time of interview. This creates a long waiting period as 25 to 35 per cent of applicants do not show up.
The new visa service system, which requires pre-payment of the non-refundable, non-transferable visa application fee, is expected to decrease the time visa applicants must wait for an interview, by encouraging only those applicants who will actually appear for an interview to make an appointment.
VFS will provide over-the-counter assistance to applicants at its existing offices in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune. Four more offices will be opened soon in Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Vijayawada and Kochi.
Officials at the Chennai US consulate said the new measures would make US visa procedures both "cost-effective and hi-tech."
Hundreds of thousands of Indians aspire to fly to the US every year. But acute lack of manpower and infrastructure in the US consular offices in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai are dampening their dreams.
At present, the waiting period for a US visa appointment at the Indian consulates can extend upto six months.
Last month, US embassy officials had told India Abroad (a rediff.com-owned weekly newspaper published in the US): "The interest of Indians in travelling to the US continues to outstrip our abilities to meet the demand. Our problem increases in the summer, when we have fewer staff."
According to the figures supplied by the American Embassy, from October 1, 2003, through September 30, 2004, 304,734 visas were issued in India. From October 2004 through July 2005, the US consulates in the country issued 261,954 visas.