The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi’s Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Don Heflin, provided an update on visa processing in India last week, outlining the steps officials are taking to reduce their processing time and appointment backlog. Highlights from the event are as follows.

Reducing the visa backlog.

  • Increased staffing. Mission India plans to be at 100 percent staffing within the next year. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mission India was operating at about 50 percent capacity. Now it is at about 70 percent and climbing steadily.
  • Adding temporary staff. The State Department is sending temporary officers to assist as Mission India pushes toward its normal staffing level.
  • Utilizing expanded Dropbox authorities. Mission India continues to utilize its expanded Dropbox authorities to reduce the number of cases requiring an in-person interview.
  • Shifting work. Officials are also sending interview waiver/Dropbox cases to posts outside of India. Wait times for these appointments should begin to drop within the next two or three weeks.

Visa interview appointments.

  • Appointment openings. In the next few weeks, India will open 100,000 appointments for 2023 for H and L visas, including for first-time H and L applicants.
  • From Dropbox to interview: Mission India is updating its software to make it easier for applicants who would qualify for Dropbox appointments to instead seek an in-person interview (and request an expedite, if needed). This change is expected in the coming days.
  • Third-party agents. Mission India also made some software changes to make it more difficult for third-party agents to take appointments.
  • Placeholder appointments. There are no longer any placeholder appointments. Appointments in 2023 and 2024 are real. Applicants can change their appointment if an earlier appointment becomes available.

Expedite requests.

  • The Embassy receives several hundred expedite requests each week. Officials do not have the capacity to grant every request and have strict criteria for the requests they do grant.
  • For business travel, Mission India generally requires something more than standard business meetings, conferences, workshops or tradeshows for an expedite request to be approved. Officials may grant expedite requests for particularly large meetings, high-level executive travel or in cases where Indian nationals need to travel to the U.S. pursuant to a contract with a U.S. company.
  • Criteria for expedite requests can be found here.

MRV Fees.

  • The State Department is preparing to make an announcement about the validity of Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees. Anyone who paid the MRV fee during the COVID-19 pandemic will need to book an appointment by Sept. 30, 2023, in order for the MRV fee to remain valid.
  • The appointment can occur after Sept. 30, 2023, but must be booked before that date. Once an appointment is scheduled, the MRV will be locked in and will be valid for the related visa application.

Student visas (F, M and J visas).

  • Visa issuance. Mission India issued more than 82,000 student visas this past summer, the most issued to any country.
  • Visa appointments. Student visa appointments will be scheduled for mid-to-late November through the end of December. Half of the appointments will open for booking in mid-October; the second half will open in mid-November.
  • J visas. Mission India updated its system to allow for separate scheduling of exchange visitor (J) visas. Applicants should see a small number of appointments available each week.
  • First-time applicants. As it did last year, Mission India will begin the interview season by giving as many first-time applicants as possible a chance to apply; toward the end of the interview season, those who have been previously refused will have a chance to apply for an interview.

Immigrant visas (green cards).

  • Family-based green cards. Mission India expects the family-based green card backlog to be cleared within the year for those whose priority dates are current.

BAL Analysis: While Mission India is taking steps to reduce its backlog, applicants should continue to expect visa processing and appointment delays at the U.S. embassy and consulates in India. Service levels and processing times may vary from post to post. BAL will continue to monitor efforts to address the delays and will provide information as it becomes available. Employers and employees should continue to consult their BAL professional before planning international travel.

The full Consular Q&A with Donald Heflin is available here.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact

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