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Why US Visa is at the heart of latest America-India heartburn & why Jaishankar is peeved with Blinken?

New Delhi: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had on Wednesday said that he was “sensitive” to the huge backlog of US visa applications from India after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised the issue.

Blinken had blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for a backlog of visa applications from Indian nationals.

However, his claims of being ‘sensitive’ seem far-fetched.

Indian visa applicants require a wait-time of over two years just for getting an appointment, shows a US government website.

While the wait time at the US Embassy in New Delhi for a Visitor Visa is as high as 833 days, it’s still higher for Mumbai at 848 days. In contrast, the wait-time is only two days for Beijing and 450 days for Islamabad.

For student visas, the wait time is 430 days for Delhi and Mumbai. Surprisingly, it’s only one day for Islamabad, and two for Beijing.

The wait times for visa applicants living in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are significantly shorter compared to big Indian cities.

The wait times could also be shorter in China due to lack of demand, growing uneasy relations between both nations and China’s Covid zero but the significant difference in waiting times from India is still glaring.

US visa services are trying to clear a backlog after Washington halted almost all visa processing worldwide in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

The US Embassy in India on Tuesday announced it has opened the appointments for all categories of visas.

Citing reduced staffing and pandemic-related disruptions in operations since March 2020, the US Embassy said the demand for visas across all categories is high and that wait times may also be longer for most non-immigrant visa appointments at the Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

On Tuesday during a joint media briefing with Blinken, Jaishankar said, “It is also in our mutual interest to facilitate the development and mobility of talent. We agreed that impediments over this should be addressed.”

“Bear with us. This will play out over the next few months, but we’re very focused on it,” Blinken said in response to a question when asked about the historic delays in visa appointments that now runs into 800 days.

On the question of visas, “I’m extremely sensitive to this,” Blinken had said.

Indians make up a large proportion of the recipients of H-1B and other work visas granted to skilled foreign workers, many in the tech industry.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

Jayshankar did not specifically mention the H-1B visas issue during the joint press conference.

“On mobility, specifically visas, this is particularly crucial given its centrality to education, business, technology, and family reunions,” he said.

“There have been some challenges of late, and I flagged it to Secretary Blinken and his team, and I have every confidence that they will look at some of these problems seriously and positively,” Jaishankar said.

Blinken said the US was trying to address the huge backlog.

“If it’s any consolation, I can tell you that this is a challenge that we’re facing around the world and it’s a product largely of the COVID pandemic. Our ability to issue visas dropped dramatically during COVID,” he said as he explained the self-financing part of the issuing of visas.

“When COVID hit, the demand for visas fell through the floor, visa fees went away, the system, as a whole, suffered. And then of course, in actually issuing visas, even with much more limited resources, we had constraints from COVID about the number of people we could have in our embassies at any one time, etc,” he said.

Blinken said he had a plan to deal with it.

“We are now building back very determinedly from that surging resource. We have a plan, when it comes to India, to address the backlog of visas that has built up. I think you’ll see that play out in the coming months,” he said.

“But it’s something that we’re very focused on. These connections, these people-to-people ties, whether it’s students, whether it’s business people, whether it’s tourists, whether it’s family, this is what really links us together,” Blinken said.

“The last thing we want to do is make that any more difficult in the country we want to facilitate it,” said the US Secretary of State.

With inputs from agencies

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