Indians bound for America can now expect to face lesser procedural hassles, with the US Embassy mobilising additional resources to eliminate by the year-end the waiting period for visa interviews which at present goes up to six months.
The US Mission is also working to expand its Business Executive Programme (BEP) under which visas of company employees are processed on priority basis. This will involve expansion of the list of companies entitled for the facility.
"We are sensitive to the inconvenience and long waits for appointments which have characterised our visa processing system in recent months," US Ambassador David C Mulford told reporters after inaugurating new visa appointment system at the Embassy here.
A similar system, under which the applicants waitlisted for the visa appointments can advance their appointments, has been initiated in American Consulates General in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
Acknowledging that the prolonged waiting period was giving a "bad name" to the US, Mulford said "We have made a Mission-wide commitment to reduce the waiting time for a visa appointment, with the goal of eliminating this waiting period altogether."
He said all those applicants, who have already got an appointment, should visit the Embassy's appointment website to advance their schedule.
Additional manpower has been put at the Embassy and Consulates to clear the backlog and at least 12 officers are being sent from Washington for the purpose.
Underlining that "nothing is more important for the future of the two countries than the strong and growing bond of business and people-to-people contact", Mulford said the visas of employees of various companies were being processed on priority basis.
Talks are being held with the major Indian business chambers like FICCI, CII, NASSCOM and Indo-American Chambers of Commerce to identify companies whose employees would get visas on priority.
The facility would be open only to Future 1000 companies and other firms of the same class.
The aim is to make travel process easier, Mulford said, expressing confidence that new initiatives will strengthen the bilateral ties.
The Ambassador said there was no quota for Indians visiting the US and noted that the demand of visa-seekers is increasing continuously.
Around five lakh visa applications were processed during the last one year, since October 2005.
Mulford pointed out that after 9/11, the US changed its visa rules and the process became cumbersome, leading to increase in waiting period.
Over the last three years, the waiting period for visas reduced but rose since about last six months due to various procedural reasons like overlapping of staff.