In a welcome move, The US State Department has announced an additional 20,000 dropbox interview waiver appointment slots in various US consulates in India. This has come when there are scores of eligible visa applicants hesitating to travel to India for a lack of available appointments. New appointment slots will be available by Spring 2022.
The Coronavirus pandemic led lockdowns, shortage of staff and global travel restrictions have impacted the visa processing across all US consulates abroad. Given that India was one of the largest countries hit by the pandemic, the US was swift to impose travel bans and reduce staff at all their consulates in India. As a result, many non-immigrant visa holders who needed their visas stamped in India are unable to get visa interview appointments.
Stranded In India
While pandemic travel bans were lifted by November 2022, many Indian nationals are still in a limbo. They are unable travel back to the US to their jobs and to their families separated in the US. H1-B, L1 and their dependent visas H4 and L2 visa appointments are hard to get. Visa renewals and Dropbox appointments were reduced to a bare minimum.
Certain non-immigrant visas like H1-B can be renewed after the first three years of being issued. For certain renewal applicants, the passport can be stamped without having to attend an in-person visa interview. In most cases, applicants have to travel to their home country, get an appointment at the local US consulate and get their passport stamped if the Consular officer approves the H1-B extension. In situations when the passport is stamped without having to attend an in-person interview, is called Dropbox stamping.
New Dropbox Visa Appointment Slots Available
The US State Department announcement read – “In the coming days, the US Embassy and Consulates in India will release more than 20,000 additional interview waiver (drop box) appointments for Spring 2022 to allow qualified applicants to make use of the new interview waiver authority.”
Furthermore, “Due to reduced staffing and numerous pandemic related disruptions to our operations since March 2020, appointment demand is high across all visa categories and wait times may be lengthy for most routine non-immigrant visa appointments at the US Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai.”
What Documents Do You Submit at the DropBox when Renewing a Non-Immigrant US Visa?
- Copy of the DS-160 Confirmation Letter
- Dropbox Confirmation Notification
- Copy of I-797, H1-B Approval, if applicable
- Passport size Photographs – 2
- Original & Valid Passport
If everything is in order, you should receive your approved visa and your passport within a couple of weeks.
Perfect Solution? Maybe Not
The dropbox option allows for certain visa renewals to go through without an interview. This means, the applicant, if eligible may submit an application and all required documents into a “Dropbox” and expect the renewal to be approved and mailed to his residence.
Now as the US Department of State releases 20,000 additional appointment slots this Spring, the questions demands if it is actually an expedited process or not? Or just another delay tactic to accommodate the Omicron variant of the Covid -19 virus?
An alternate option would be to offer visa processing avenues in the United States itself. This would eliminate the need for visa stampers to go abroad to get their visa renewed.
Stay tuned to this space to see if and how these visas wait times will improve after Spring 2022.