The United States Embassy in India has just announced that it is implementing a new visa processing system throughout India that is expected to standardize procedures and simplify fee payment and appointment scheduling through a new website at www.ustraveldocs.com/in. According to Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Julia Stanley the new system will go live from September 26, 2012.
Some of the important changes are set out below:
Visa applicants have more payment options once the system is in force as they will be able to pay application fees via Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) or with their mobile phones. They can also pay in cash at more than 1,800 Axis bank or Citibank branches. Within one hour of payment, applicants will receive an SMS message letting them know that their receipt has been activated, and they can proceed with scheduling their appointments. Earlier applicants had to wait for about two days before their visa fee receipt was activated allowing them to book appointments.
The new website (www.ustraveldocs.com/in) will be available in English and Hindi that will answer questions about how to apply for a U.S. visa. Visa applicants will be able to fill out application forms, find out what documents are required, pay visa application fees, schedule an appointment for biometrics collection, and schedule an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate via this website.
Appointments can be scheduled through the new website or by calling the call center.
Visa applicants will be able to have their questions answered via telephone, email, or online chat. Call center agents in Noida and Hyderabad will answer questions in Hindi, English, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu. Call centers will be open 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday and 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on Sunday. The numbers are (91-120) 660-2222 or (91-22) 6720-9400 in India or 1-310-616-5424 in the United States. Applicants can email in English or Hindi at email@example.com, or they can chat with service executives directly from the website (www.ustraveldocs.com/in) during call center hours.
However, because biometrics (finger prints) will be collected at Offsite Facilitation Centers (OFC), which are expected to be close to the Embassy or Consulates but will be at different locations and first time applicants will need two separate appointments on two separate days.
Most applicants will only need to submit their fingerprints at the OFC one time as most applicants who are renewing their visas will be able to skip this step.
The Embassy has also launched its new system for the delivery of passports, visas, immigrant visa packets and other documents, which will now be delivered to 33 document pick-up locations across India within a week at no charge.
Some things remain unchanged. For instance the visa application fees remain the same, an American consular officer will continue to conduct interviews at the Embassy or Consulate and the adjudication standards remain unchanged.
The OFCs will be operated by VFS, the third party service provider that was hitherto providing document collection and delivery as well as other support services for U.S. visas.
The fact that appointments can be booked via telephone is important as there are still several thousands of visa applicants who are not computer savvy or who do not have easy access to the Internet.
The new system will be beneficial to those who do not require an interview – such as senior applicants, minor applicants and applicants for visa renewals. However, it is unclear whether visa applicants have to be finger printed in the same city where they will appear for an interview. This is pertinent, because applicants under blanket Ls have to appear for their interview only in Chennai. If they are traveling from say Mumbai, can they be finger printed in Mumbai before traveling to Chennai? If yes, it will help companies as this will reduce expenses related to extended stay in Chennai as the finger printing appointment and the interview will be on two different days.
About the call centers being more helpful – this is a bit questionable, because there seems to be a significant disconnect between the consular officers and the VFS, which manages the call center system. For instance an attorney in Mumbai contacted the VFS to follow up on a student visa application pending for administrative process under 221 (g). The VFS wrote back on day three after the attorney sent her email informing her client’s that the application was pending. In the meantime, on day two after the email was sent, the client checked the online visa update portal and found that his visa had been approved