In what comes as great news for Indian students waiting to travel to the US, the US Embassy in India is gearing up to hold more visa interviews this year than it did even before the pandemic, a top official at the US Embassy in India handling visa issues said.
"Our goal is to interview as many people as we did in 2019 which was a normal year. We scraped up resources to do that and we are very sure of doing 2019 numbers and exceed it by a bit," Don Heflin, Minister Counselor, Consular Affairs at the US Embassy told CNBC TV18.
As the second wave slowly recedes in India and vaccination rates in the US spike, the US government is focusing on restarting immigration operations.
"We have had a late start this year, we usually begin interviews in May and June. While we have started on June 14, we will start really well on July 1. Students have faced a lot of technical difficulties. Thousands of students have got appointments for July and August. We will release more appointments next week," Heflin said.
With COVID-19 cases dropping and the majority of the American adult population having already been jabbed, the US has relaxed norms for visits by foreign nations. But colleges continue to have their own requirements.
"The US government does not have a vaccine passport policy. Our CDC has mandated an RTPCR test within three days of travel and no requirement of vaccination. Schools and universities each have their own requirements and you need to check what they want to do. Some schools require people to start with self-isolation," Heflin said.
He added that if an unvaccinated student turns up, many higher education institutions are now taking them straight to a vaccination centre to get jabbed.
He also assuaged the fear of students concerned over the lack of international flights and travel restrictions, that may end with them not being able to reach their universities by the time classes start. Heflin said students can talk to the university and ask them to send a letter allowing them to show up a little late.
The US embassy is also issuing H1B visas under National Interest Exception. Professionals need to show they are travelling in support of critical infrastructure. Enabling existing H1B holders and renewing H1B visas for those who fulfil the National Interest Exception. H1B visas will be a priority after the student visa process is over.