From (L-R) – John Ballard, Consular Chief, US Consulate, Mumbai, Hugo Rodriguez, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), Bureau of Consular Affairs (US), and Jessica Doyle, Acting Spokesperson, US Consulate, Mumbai. | Megha Chowdhury
Mumbai: The United States Mission in India will be officially opening up student visa interview slots for Indian students by next month, according to John Ballard, Consular Chief, U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai.
“We will be officially opening up most of our study visa appointments from June 1 till the middle of July. In light of more demands, we will open up more slots from mid-July through August so that every student has an opportunity to appear for the interviews,” said Ballard at a media roundtable, on US Mission to India’s consular operations, which had the presence of Hugo Rodriguez, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), Bureau of Consular Affairs, US.
The announcement comes as thousands of students in India prepare for the Fall intake with the US Consul General in Mumbai Mike Hankey stating to reporters last month that the country is aiming to increase visa interview appointments for Indian students by 30% this summer.
Non-immigrant visas being issued in record numbers
With a record number of Indian students being issued study visas, at 1,25,000, in the fiscal year 2022, The US Mission in India is set to interview the highest number of students from India between June-August for the Fall intake.
“Mission India issued in the last 6 months nearly two and a half times the number of non-immigrant visas than in the same period last year. We are processing more visas now than we did in 2019 before the pandemic hit,” said Rodriquez.
Rise in student numbers poses fraud challenge for US
Over a million visas are expected to be issued to Indians by the US in 2023, with the Mission witnessing almost 500,000 visas from India being processed already.
Though the journey to a million prioritises non-immigrant visas for work, business, and tourism purposes such as H1B, B1, and B2 visas, students take precedence during the current session due to the volume of applications.
But with fraudulent applications among students being a cause of concern in the past few years, especially in countries such as Canada, Germany, and Australia, the US is upping the ante to deal with the same.
“We are always alert to fraud in visa application processes around the world and it is safe to say that we have identified applicants who are not bonafide students. Our teams here are actively looking at all documents so if you present fraudulent documents you could even be ineligible for a visa for the rest of your life,” warned Rodriguez, who added that students should avoid going to an agent as most of the application process is free and accessible.
‘Relax and breathe easy during visa interviews,’ officials assure students
With a focus on individuals who are first-time applicants, officials believe students need to be more relaxed during visa interviews so that their applications avoid getting rejected, forcing them to apply for a second time with no assurance of getting a date in the same academic year.
“I would advise students to be more truthful and not memorise their answers thinking that’s what we want to hear. We just want students to take a deep breath and demonstrate why they are a legitimate student, why they chose the US, and how they will pay for their expenses in the country,” stated Ballard, who added that students are not expected to bring any documents to prove their finances during visa interviews.
More options for B-1, B-2 applicants applying in 2023
Apart from the student boom, a similar phenomenon is being seen in the number of visitors to the US as over 1.2 million Indians visited the country in 2022, making the cohort one of the largest groups of international visitors to the US.
Despite in-person tourist visa appointment wait time being down 60% since the start of 2023, Indians can avoid being bogged down by the same as they have the option to confirm their slots in major cities around the world.
“Though Indian citizens can apply for a US visa from anywhere in the world. Bangkok and Frankfurt are two cities that have reserved appointments for Indians, who can take advantage of the same,” Ballard told reporters.
Indians surpass Chinese in US student population for 2022
Despite being the second largest origin country for international students in the US, India sent more students to the North American country compared to its counterpart, China.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in its annual report mentioned that 64,300 Indian students came to America in 2022 while Chinese student numbers shrunk to 24,796 in the same year.