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No easing of delays for H-1B visa holders travelling to India

Published: 08/13/2022

Even as Indians continue to get the largest number of H-1B work visas in the US, huge processing backlogs by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, are hitting many of them hard.

H-1B visa holders, who travel to India, need to get their passports stamped at the US Embassy in Delhi or consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata or Mumbai, before they travel back to the US. This process has been hit by long delays since the pandemic and is causing a lot of difficulties for many Indians who work in the US.

There are thousands of Indians working on H-1B visas in the US with Indian nationals getting the largest numbers every year. In fiscal 2021, Indians bagged 74.1% of the 4.07 lakh H-1B visas approved by the USCIS; while in 2020 the figure was 74.9% of the total of 4.26 lakh approved. And now, with the delays in getting dates to submit their passports for visa stamps, many of them are facing a lot of difficulties in travelling to India for vacations; to meet family members; weddings; festivals or even for emergency medical needs of elderly parents.

Rahul (who didn’t want to use his second name), moved to the US nine years back on an H-1B visa and is an IT professional in Dallas. He hasn’t visited his parents and family in Delhi for almost two years. And now, he is struggling to get an appointment for the drop box facility to submit his passport and papers at the US Embassy to get his H-1B visa stamped, before he can plan a trip. He has been advised by his lawyer and the HR department of his employer to not plan on travelling to India before he has booked a confirmed visa appointment online.

“I have been desperately trying to book appointments for my wife and me for November 2022 since the last three months. We are logged in all day and night hoping that slots will be available for H-1B visa holders like us, but so far, we haven’t been lucky. We have legal status of approved work visas and petitions filed for green card; it is so distressing that we are not able to travel to our home country,” Rahul says.

He adds that even when slots open up on the US department of state website; they get booked so fast that he misses out. He is part of several online groups to track news and developments about availability of H-1B visa slots in India. “We will miss spending the festival season with our family as well as several weddings. Besides, grandparents on both sides are very eager to meet our first child who was born three months back,” he adds.

His wife, who is also an IT professional, too is anxious about not being able to plan a trip to India. “I’ve recently had a baby and I’m very excited about going home to India and meeting my parents and family. I’m very stressed about the visa delay and have been spending sleepless nights,” she said.

S. Pinnamaneni, a programmer analyst in Houston, too, has been trying to book a slot to get his H-1B visa stamped in India and is looking for dates at the American embassy as well as all the consulates for several weeks; but has so far not been successful. Pinnamaneni, who moved to the US in 2014, has not visited India since, because of the uncertainty around being on an H-1B visa. However, now his father-in-law is seriously ill and his condition has deteriorated over the past few weeks.

“I urgently need to travel to India to be with him but cannot because I can’t get a visa appointment. My wife is in India since last year with a visa valid till September 2022. She has to return to the US before that to retain her job and then we will have to keep on trying to get an appointment in India.”

According to the rules, he is not eligible to apply for an emergency appointment to visit his critically ill father-in-law, till he secures a regular visa appointment.

Gaurish Kadam, a wireless systems professional working in California, went to the US in 2008 as a student from Mumbai. He hasn’t visited India since the pandemic started. Besides meeting family members, one of the important reasons for him to come to India is to get his H-1B visa stamped.

“Since I have an expired H-1B on my passport, I will not be able to travel back to the US if I go to any other country. There have been cases recently of H-1B visa holders travelling to India and then having to extend their stay for several months because of delays in visa approval and stamping,” he said.

His job requires him to be on-site in the US and if his visa gets delayed when he visits India on leave, he will not be able to join work. Kadam has been trying to get a date for the last three months and has recently been able to get one in October 2022.

“For the last few months, I could not make any vacation plans even in the US. All I was doing was trying to get a visa date and hoping that I get lucky,” he said.

Several H-1B holders in the US, who spoke Times of India but didn’t want to be named, said that they were part of many groups on different social media platforms to stay updated on the availability of visa slots. Some had even approached ‘agents’ in India and got slots booked through them paying huge amounts of money.

Some were even facing long delays after coming to India despite having booked a date because they had to submit additional documents or were picked for extra background checks.

While it is not yet clear when the backlog for H-1B visa interviews will ease and a pre-pandemic timeline be available; in a recent interview to the Times of India, Donald L Heflin, minister-counselor for consular affairs at the US Embassy in Delhi, had said that it is expected that by the middle of 2023, the US consular facilities will be back at 100%.

Read More: timesofindia.indiatimes

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