US visa wait times vary enormously depending on where you apply from. For example, at the US Embassy in London the wait times for most non-immigrant visa categories including the L1 visa category is 5 calendar days for a visa application with a in person appointment, and 21 days for an interview waiver appointment. Presumably helping Indians obtain a US work visa such as an L1 visa quickly is not a high priority.
The wait time for US L1 visas has hit nearly a year, according to a report published by Forbes. US visa wait times as a whole have increased significantly, forcing the US State Department to issue a statement defending backlogs. According to the Forbes report, the wait time for an L1 visa interview, specifically in Mumbai, India, is 351 days.
It’s the same story for H1B visas. Meanwhile, the wait time for US visitor visas is a staggering 999 days. At a recent briefing, the US Department of State (DoS) responded to criticism of lengthy wait times, which accused US immigration authorities of ‘harming workers, families and companies’.
In India in particular, businesses did acknowledge some small improvements, but highlighted that lengthy US visa wait times have been a serious issue since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. During the briefing, Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie Stufft cited statistics that showed a median worldwide wait time of seven days for students and temporary workers.
Strategies to improve US visa wait times
Stufft added that the wait time for a US B1/B2 tourist visa is two months, before outlining plans to improve wait times at ‘high-profile locations’. In particular, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the State Department said she wants to reduce L1 visa wait times to ‘pre-pandemic levels’.
To do this, she proposed increasing staffing levels across US embassies and consulates, waiving in-person interviews for L1 visas, H1B visas and students, plus those renewing US visas – particularly those who have previously traveled to the US.
Stufft said: “US consular officers in China remotely adjudicate hundreds of applicants from India (with waived interviews), and a similar process happens with applicants from Mexico. This allows our consular officers in places like India and Mexico to focus on first-time and other visa applicants who do require an in-person interview.”
When asked if more L1 visa interviews, and other US visa in-person interviews, could be conducted remotely, Stufft said that the DoS had ‘decided against it’.
She said: “Waiving interviews for certain people reduces the need for remote interviews, and for those who require an interview, they typically need to come in person to a consulate to provide biometrics, providing a time to conduct the interview.”
Renew visas within the US
Outside of the L1 visa, analysts have pointed to the idea of US immigration authorities allowing foreign nationals to renew their visas while they are still in the county – a practice that ended in 2004. Analysts claim that this would help to ease lengthy US visa wait times.
At the briefing, Stufft said: “We are actively pursuing this. I can’t give you an update on timing right now, but it’s something that we’re actively working on. We talk extensively to industry and other stakeholders. And we have the message loud and clear that this would be useful.”
While some improvements have been made to ease US visa wait times in some locations, those in countries and visa categories – including the L1 visa category – still waiting for a reduction in waiting times are hoping for a swift resolution.
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