There has been a huge delay in the issue of American visas in India on account of heightened security measures after September 11, according to United States officials.
The delay is the worst in Chennai, which figured last year among the world's top 12 US visa centres. There, a visa-seeker submitting her application to the US consulate today is likely to be called for an interview only by the end of August, unless it is an emergency.
The delay in New Delhi is one week, two weeks in Calcutta, and two to three weeks in Mumbai.
But the delays in New Delhi and Calcutta are likely to increase with the US deciding on Wednesday, June 11, to allow applicants from Chennai to apply at these centres.
The delay in procuring visas can "affect students, businessmen, etc, so we are taking some steps and looking at our procedures", a senior US embassy official announcing the decision in New Delhi said.
The move is important because visa procedures are likely to be tightened from August 1. All visa applicants will then have to appear in person, except those renewing their visas before expiry in the same category.
The exemption will be extended to some classes of senior citizens and children. But the rest will have to appear in person.
The official said that if the US Congress does not move to extend the existing limit on H-1B visas before September 30, the total number of H-1B visas issued around the world every year will go down to 65,000 from the present 195,000.
The other popular visa issued to Indian professionals is the L-1, which are meant for intra-company transfers to offices in the US. L-1 visas are also issued to some in the outsourcing business under specific conditions.
Both in the H-1B and L-1 categories, the number of applications from India has gone down this year. But a senior US official said that could be attributed to "the state of the economy and state of information technology business in the US". More than 42,000 L-1 and H-1B visas were issued last year to Indian professionals.
India is one of the biggest centres for issuing visas to the US. Last year, American consulates in the country issued 275,000 visas. This year the number is likely to be close to 300,000.
Last year India was also the source of the second largest number of legal migrants to the US after Mexico, and also provided the largest number of students to US universities.