External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in his meeting with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday raised the issue of the backlog of visa applications from India to which the top American diplomat said he is sensitive to the matter and had a plan to address it.
“It is also in our mutual interest to facilitate the development and mobility of talent. We agreed that impediments over this should be addressed,” Jaishankar told reporters during a joint media availability with Blinken at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department here following their over an hour-long meeting.
US visa services are trying to clear a backlog after Washington the US halted almost all visa processing worldwide in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
Indians make up a large proportion of the recipients of H-1B and other work visas granted to skilled foreign workers, many in the tech industry.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
The Indian minister did not specifically mention the H-1B visas issue during the joint presser.
There is a keen interest in India’s national education policy and we will explore how that can best serve to expand our partnership, Jaishankar said.
“On mobility, specifically visas, this is particularly crucial given its centrality to education, business, technology, and family reunions,” he said.
“There have been some challenges of late, and I flagged it to Secretary Blinken and his team, and I have every confidence that they will look at some of these problems seriously and positively,” Jaishankar said.
“Bear with us. This will play out over the next few months, but we’re very focused on it,” Blinken said in response to a question when asked about the historic delays in visa appointments that now runs into 800 days.
“On the question of visas, I’m extremely sensitive to this,” Blinken said.
Blinken blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for a backlog of visa applications from Indian nationals.
“If it’s any consolation, I can tell you that this is a challenge that we’re facing around the world and it’s a product largely of the Covid pandemic. Our ability to issue visas dropped dramatically during Covid,” he said as he explained the self-financing part of the issuing of visas.
“When Covid hit, the demand for visas fell through the floor, visa fees went away, the system, as a whole, suffered. And then of course, in actually issuing visas, even with much more limited resources, we had constraints from Covid about the number of people we could have in our embassies at any one time, etc,” he said.
Blinken said he had a plan to deal with it.
“We are now building back very determinedly from that surging resource. We have a plan, when it comes to India, to address the backlog of visas that has built up. I think you’ll see that play out in the coming months,” he said.
“But it’s something that we’re very focused on. These connections, these people-to-people ties, whether it’s students, whether it’s business people, whether it’s tourists, whether it’s family, this is what really links us together,” Blinken said.
“The last thing we want to do is make that any more difficult in the country we want to facilitate it,” said the US Secretary of State.