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Visa nightmare: Mounting delays, fewer appointment slots, and the rush of student visa applications

US visa appointments booked till April 2023; UK visa processing time nearly double of pre-pandemic norm; VFS has predicted high demand for student visas in August.

July 30, 2022 / 11:28 AM IST
Approximately 700,000 Indian applicants are awaiting a visa for Canada; and over 4 lakh Indians are waiting to get a US visa appointment. (Representational image: Converkit via Unsplash)

Approximately 700,000 Indian applicants are awaiting a visa for Canada; and over 4 lakh Indians are waiting to get a US visa appointment. (Representational image: Converkit via Unsplash)

Indian travellers' worst visa nightmare is coming true. The number of US visa applicants waiting for an interview slot has crossed 4 lakh. Worldwide, the Canadian visa backlog is a whopping 2.4 million, with India being one of the most affected with approximately 700,000 pending applications. The visa-processing time is six weeks for the UK, and a few Schengen countries including France and Iceland have no appointment slots available. VFS is receiving 25,000 applications every day for tourist visas and has predicted high demand for student visas in August.

The US: The US Embassy had recently announced resumption of in-person visa appointments from September, but the slots are completely booked till April 2023 in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai.

According to the US official BackLog report (travel.state.gov), the number of eligible applicants still awaiting an interview date after the July 2022 appointment scheduling was completed is 409,645. By comparison, in 2019, on average 60,866 applicants were pending the scheduling of an interview each month.

The number of visa applicants whose documents are complete, submitted at National Visa Center (NVC) and ready for interview as of June 30 is 433,819. Number of documentarily complete applicants scheduled for July 2022 interview appointments is 24,174.

Last year, the US issued visas to a record 62,000 Indian students. This year, the Embassy has opened 100,000 appointments for student visas but delays are mounting and students are missing their academic semesters.

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Canada: Worldwide, the visa backlog is a whopping 2.4 million with India being one of the most affected with approximately 700,000 pending cases. Canada is planning an infusion of US$65.16 million to reduce the application inventory and hire more staff. A team from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is also expected to travel to India soon to try and resolve issues related to delays.

The UK: In normal circumstances for non-settlement visa applications submitted outside the UK, 90 percent are decided within three weeks; 98 percent within six weeks and 100 percent within 12 weeks of the application date. But this year the wait time has extended. According to the UK visa and immigration website, at the time of the visa application, if an applicant chooses the ‘priority service’ a decision will be made within five working days of appointment. Under Super Priority Visa, you can pay £800 in addition to the application fee and get a decision by the end of the next working day.

However, the visa processing is taking much longer in India due to high volumes of visa applications coupled with limited appointment availability and stretched visa processing.  The current standard processing time for visit visa applications is six weeks. Work visas are regularly taking in excess of six weeks, while family settlement applications now have a standard processing time of 24 weeks (previously 12 weeks).

“If your travel plans are being disrupted due to delay and you want the passport back, you will have to pay Rs 3,500 for passport return,” said Anil Haribal of Travel Forte.

Schengen visas: According to the revised Schengen visa code, one can apply for a Schengen visa up to six months before the date of travel. However, globally, due to the high demand, those who have not applied yet will most likely be unable to find available appointments until mid-September, according to SchengenVisaInfo.com. Of the 26 Schengen Area countries, a couple of countries may have some available slots for August. Nonetheless, most of them do not have any appointments available until September.

This is also happening because the embassies are unable to meet the high demand due to the fixed number of visas they can issue.

As if the visa chaos was not enough, authorities in Spain may ask holidayers to show they hold enough money for their trips at the rate of €100 or £85 per day, according to the Daily Record. This is not in effect yet.

Ireland: According to Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the approximate time taken for processing visas (in days) is:

Business: 10 days

Conference / Event: 10

Employment: 10

Join family: 20

Study: 20

Visit: 20

This does not include days required to get a visa appointment and time taken for passports to reach the Irish embassy/consulates. The Department warns that “it is the applicant's responsibility to apply on time, and requests to expedite the processing time will not be entertained”.

Greece: Earlier this month, visa services in the Greek embassy in New Delhi faced a “temporary problem”. However, the consular office said that it has been resolved and applicants who are planning a holiday in the country can now expect to have their visa applications processed in less than 15 working days.

Student visas: With several Indian students unable to join the academic year in foreign universities due to delay in visa processing, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is liaising with the ambassadors / deputy chiefs of the missions of Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, UK & USA and has asked them to ‘streamline’ and ‘fast-track’ the process. The pressure on the US, UK, Australia, Canada and Germany missions is more, since these countries are sought-after education destinations.  Priority and super priority student visas currently are unavailable, globally.

Visa-free or E-visa travel options: Long waits for tourist visas to Europe are forcing many Indians to shift to alternative destinations for vacations. Short-haul and visa-on-arrival or e-visa options are gaining popularity among Indian travellers.

“While Western Europe was heading the leaderboard with destinations like Switzerland, France, Austria and Italy, visa challenges are resulting in a push back on departure dates.  To avoid disappointments, our customers are being advised to plan their holidays and submit their visa applications well in advance, keeping a buffer of a few additional weeks.

"Given European visa challenges, customers are opting for easy visa destinations (no visa/e-visa/ on arrival). There is a considerable demand shift to South-East Asia’s Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia; Vietnam and Cambodia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Maldives and Mauritius due to close proximity/ easy access and Turkey, Egypt and USA (for visa holding customers). The pipeline for Australia too is seeing robust demand from both leisure and MICE segments with both the new flight Bengaluru-Sydney and the cricket bonanza starting October. New emerging options include Jordan, Seychelles, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan,” said Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa - Thomas Cook (India) Limited.

Visa-free countries for Indian citizens: Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, Seychelles (permit on arrival), Jamaica, Senegal, Serbia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti (for up to 90 days), among others.

Visa-on-arrival countries for Indian citizens: Thailand, Maldives, Laos, Mauritius, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iran (apply online and obtain ‘Submission Notice’ before departure), Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Jordan, among others. Note that visa-on-arrival is available only at select airports and ports of countries offering them.

Countries offering e-visa / entry permit to Indian citizens: Malaysia (eNTRI Note), Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Turkey, Zambia, Tanzania, and Vietnam, among others. E-visas for tourism are usually single-entry visas. You can get an e-visa for the UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Oman, Vietnam in three to four working days.

“Customers with valid USA/UK visa can apply for an e-visa for Turkey and Argentina, and those with valid Schengen/USA/Canadian visa are eligible for a long-term multiple entry visa for Saudi Arabia,” said Daniel D’Souza, President & Country Head - Holidays, SOTC Travel.
Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer.
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