New Visa Application Process in India from September 26, 2012

This NewsBrief is provided by our affiliate, Murthy Immigration Services, Pvt. Ltd., in Chennai, India. It was originally posted on their website on 06.Sep.2012.

In a press release on September 5, 2012, the current Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Julia Stanley, announced that as of Wednesday, September 26, 2012, a new visa processing system will be introduced throughout India. This new system will standardize procedures, simplify fee payment and appointment scheduling for visa applicants. At the time of this writing, we believe that this new system will primarily affect nonimmigrant visa applicants and certain immigrant visa applicants. In this article, we summarize the significant changes introduced in the new system.

Multiple Modes of Payment

With the new system, visa applicants will be able to pay the visa application fees using (i) Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT); (ii) mobile phones; (iii) cash at over 1,800 Axis bank branches across India.

At this time, it is not clear if the HDFC bank will continue to receive the visa application fees. At the time of this writing, payment of visa application fee is possible only through one of the designated HDFC banks situated at the Metros.

Receipt Activated Within an Hour of Payment

It is understood that the applicants will receive messages on their mobile phones within one hour of payment of the visa application fees. They will be able to schedule their appointments immediately after this - a significant change, which will benefit urgent travelers. Previously, the receipt purchased at HDFC bank would be activated only after two working days from the date of purchase and only then would applicants be able to schedule an appointment.

Appointment May Be Scheduled By Phone or Online

With the introduction of the new system, visa applicants will be able to schedule visa interview appointments either online or by phone. Previously this was possible only online using the Visa Facilitation Services Global (VFS Global) WebSite. VFS Global is currently the administrative partner for U.S. diplomatic missions in India, handling the visa application process. According to the press release, as of September 26, 2012 applicants will have to schedule their appointments using www.ustraveldocs.com/in or by contacting one of the new call centers by phone. This website will be available in English and Hindi. At the time of this writing only basic information is available.

Easier for Companies and Travel Agents to Handle Multiple Applicants

The press release indicates that companies and travel agents will be permitted to purchase multiple fee receipts for group travel. They will also have a feature that permits scheduling a visa interview for group travel and a feature to schedule emergency / expedited appointments.

Help Available in Multiple Modes and for Extended Duration, Including Sundays

The new system will provide assistance to visa applicants by addressing their questions by phone, eMail, or online chat. Previously this assistance was available only by phone and eMail. It is understood that the call centers will be located in Noida and Hyderabad. The call center will support inquiries in Hindi, English, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, and Telugu. The call centers will operate for extended hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Indian Standard Time (IST), Monday through Friday. On Sundays, the center will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. IST. The contact number for the call centers, if dialing from India, will be 0120-660-2222 or 022-6720-9400 and, if dialing from the U.S., the number will be +1-310-616-5424. EMail support will be provided both in English and Hindi, and applicants may eMail their questions to support-india@ustraveldocs.com. The chat feature will be available directly from www.ustraveldocs.com/in during the working hours indicated above.

Two Appointments Needed

The new system will require visa applicants to schedule two appointments. As the first step, visa applicants will have to visit an Offsite Facilitation Centre (OFC) to submit their fingerprints and photographs. As the name suggests, we understand that the OFCs will be located at places other than the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the U.S. Consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai. The exact locations of the OFCs has not yet been released. Following this, it will be necessary for visa applicants who do not qualify for the Interview Waiver Program to visit the U.S. Embassy or consulate for the visa interview.

Separate Appointment for Biometrics Could Cause Inconvenience

Though this system is expected to reduce congestion at the Embassy and consulates in India, applicants residing in places that do not have OFCs nearby may have to travel twice for the process. At this time, it is not clear if applicants will be permitted to provide biometrics and photographs on the same day as their visa interviews or on the day prior to their interviews. If applicants have to provide this a few days prior to the visa interview, significant inconvenience may result if they are from places in India without OFCs.

OFC Would Benefit Applicants Eligible for Interview Waiver Program (IWP)

As we reported in March, certain visa applicants are eligible for IWP. This update is available on the Murthy Immigration Services, Pvt. Ltd WebSite. Applicants who qualify for the IWP may not have to visit the U.S. Embassy or consulate under the new system, as biometrics can be provided to OFCs potentially nearer to the  applicants' residences. Certain applicants who have already been ten-finger printed and are renewing their visas may not even have to visit an OFC or the embassy / consulate.

New Delivery System for Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Documents

The new system will deliver passports, visas, immigrant visa packets and other related documents to 33 document pickup locations across India within one week of the interview date. This service is to be offered free of charge. Applicants will be notified by eMail and short messaging service (SMS) when the documents are ready for pickup.

At present, the VFS charges a processing fee of INR 387, which includes delivery of passports to areas serviced by Blue Dart. It is unclear if applicants will be able continuing to have documents delivered to their addresses by paying the additional fee.

Conclusion

In this press release, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Julia Stanley concludes by stating that the visa adjudication process will remain the same and that all applicants will have to meet the eligibility criteria for their respective visa categories before their visas can be issued. In the long term, as additional changes are made in the visa application system, the press release indicates that there may be a time when applicants who need to renew their visas may not have to visit OFCs, the Embassy, or a consulate. We at Murthy Immigration Services will continue to keep our readers informed on any further information available on this new system. The press release from the embassy can be found online.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.

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