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US student visa: What Indian students should know for fall 2021

US student visa
Indian students are looking forward to returning to campus, but will they make it this September? Source: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP

Indian students are racing to secure their US student visa in time for the September 2021 semester. We saw the effects of the pandemic in 2020 when the country granted 64% fewer US student visas to Indian students compared to the year before. This year, visa processing backlogs have many worried that they will miss their chance to start their course in person.

With US visa offices in India still closed, though, how should Indian students go about this predicament? Here are the answers to your top questions, according to immigration lawyer Poorvi Chothani in the Economic Times.

US student visa

Your vaccination status will influence your return to the US. Source: Narinder Nanu/AFP

Can Indian students enter the US?

Though the travel ban against travellers from India is still in effect, international students with US student visa are exempted. If you are enrolled in a programme starting Aug. 1, 2021 or later, you may enter the country with an F or M visa. Bear in mind that you may only arrive 30 days before classes begin — not earlier.

Where vaccines are concerned, there have been reports of Indian students being asked to revaccinate because they received the Covaxin or Sputnix V types. These have not yet been approved by the World Health Organization and are not yet accepted in the US. The best you can do is check the vaccination rules with your local consulate and university.

Can I still get a US student visa for September 2021?

Planning to start this fall, but don’t have a visa yet? Since US Consulates and the Embassy in India are only offering emergency services, most non-immigrant visa applications will not be prioritised. It’s a tough situation to navigate, but you could still take a shot.

Indian students may still be considered for National Interest Exception (NIE). The NIE allows travel to the US for persons whose entry is of national interest.

According to the official website, students who have not yet applied for their US student visa will be processed for NIE at the time of their interview, if needed. Chotani offers this advice: “Book the first available appointment and then follow the instructions on the Consulate/Embassy website, and request an earlier date based on the Department of State’s announcement that students would be considered for a NIE.”

Are H-1B and J-1 visa holders allowed to enter the US?

H-1B visa holders (without family in the US) may also qualify for NIE, depending on how critical their role is. The same goes for J-1 visa holders — you may still be exempted if you are a scholar, US government agency trainee, specialised teacher, or exchange visitor in a policy programme.

You may direct further immigration enquiries to the NRI Helpdesk at nri.economictimes@gmail.com.