With over half a million Indians going to the US, Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer on Monday opened a new consular section at the US embassy in New Delhi that will smoothen the process of getting American visas and and cement people-to-people ties between the two countries.
"This facility is a reflection of the enduring strength of the US-India relationship," Roemer said while cutting the ribbon at the new consular section along with Gayatri Kumar, joint secretary in India's external affairs ministry (in charge of the Americas).
"It demonstrates the US' commitment to our expanding people-to-people ties just as we are strengthening our strategic partnership for the prosperity, security, and democratic future of all our citizens," he said.
This partnership is unshakable, said Roemer, a former Congressman from Indiana.
The new consular section, the US envoy hoped, will deliver services in a quicker and more efficient manner.
He pointed to an exponential growth in travel between the two countries. Over the past five years, non-immigrant visas issued by the US embassy in in India have more than doubled from approximately 275,000 in 2003 to about 560,000 in 2008.
Indians form the largest foreign student population in US colleges and universities since 2001. Around 95,000 Indians went to study in the US in 2008.
Around 800,000 Americans travelled to India last year.
Kumar also underscored the centrality of people-to-people contacts to the deepening India-US ties. "People-to-people contacts are the foundation of everything we do together," she said.
Costing around $10 million, the new consular section doubles the waiting area, triples customer seating, adds a modern queuing system to guide customers through the visa process and adds many new interviewing windows to ensure that visa applicants and American citizens can speak to an officer more quickly and in a comfortable environment.
The waiting time for the much-coveted US visa has been reduced from around two months to two weeks due to a slew of initiatives taken by the US embassy over the years.
A new consulate in Hyderabad that opened in November 2008 has already issued more than 30,000 visas. There have also been dramatic expansions in the consulates in Chennai and Kolkata and a new consular facility is in advanced stages of construction in Mumbai's northern suburbs.