Interview waivers for Indian students ease US visa appointment in India for studying abroad
International students are key to strengthening the 75-year diplomatic relationship between India and the US. The US Embassy in India is set to introduce new measures to ease student visa applications to bolster more academic exchanges between the two countries. Source: Stefani Reynolds/POOL/AFP

Good news for Indian students: you might not need to book a US visa appointment in India for an interview at all. Thanks to a new initiative, previous US visa holders will be able to skip the interview portion entirely to get their study visas, thereby shortening the overall application process.

The announcement was made on Tuesday at the sixth annual Student Visa Day event in India. “Under new visa guidelines, students who have previously held any US visa can apply using the drop box service to bypass the in-person interview. This is just one of the many steps we are taking,” Patricia Lacina, Charge D’Affaires at the US Embassy, was quoted saying in The Indian Express.

Lacina pointed out the need to simplify and expedite the visa application process for Indian students, especially since they now make up the second-largest international student population in the US.

“Student mobility and the people-to-people connections it forges have been a cornerstone of the US-India relationship for the past 75 years, and remains so today,” she added.

“Our consulate professionals are hard at work interviewing student visa applicants across India. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Mission India issued more student visas in 2021 than ever before.”

The numbers are expected to soar further this summer as more slots are granted for students to get a US visa appointment in India. The Embassy seeks to surpass last year’s record of 62,000 issuances to Indian nationals admitted to American universities, The Indian Express reports.

Over 3,000 Indian students were interviewed across different US consular offices throughout the country at the time of the announcement, including US Embassy in New Delhi, and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata.

More slots for students to book a US visa appointment in India

In January this year, the US Embassy in India temporarily closed all in-person appointments due to a surge in applications received in the Fall-Winter period. Eliminating the need for a walk-in interview can greatly shorten the process of getting an approval stamp to greenlight students’ entry into the US. 

Speaking to ThePrint, Don Heflin, the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs at the US Embassy in New Delhi dispensed some useful advice for Indian students to secure approvals. “Think ‘why do I want to study this discipline,’ ‘why this area of the country,’ and ‘what do I plan to do with this degree.’ And be ready to spit the answer out in a minute,” he said. 

Interview waivers for Indian students ease US visa appointment in India for studying abroad

Indian students received record-high approval rates to study in the US in 2021 even with the coronavirus pandemic affecting international travel. Source: Narinder Nanu/AFP

The Embassy plans to open more interview slots by 20% to 25% this year for Indian students. Heflin added that rejection rates for first-timers are typically low, and those who didn’t pass the first round in the June-July interview period can get a second chance in August. 

The encouraging number of US study visa approvals for Indian students indicates a positive outlook for study abroad aspirants. Despite the pandemic affecting international travel, the approval rate for Indians has seen its highest numbers in a while. In Gujarat, the success rate was 95% in 2021, compared to just around 45% yearly in the past. 

The swell in numbers can be attributed to pull factors from the US enabling Indian students to gain working experience in the country after graduation. The Biden administration added 22 new science-related courses to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme back in February in an attempt to draw and retain more skilled foreign talents in the US.

Interview waivers for Indian students ease US visa appointment in India for studying abroad

Source: Indian students overwhelmingly prefer STEM programmes in the US over other courses due to high-quality research and post-graduation opportunities. Source: Manjunath Kiran/AFP

STEM subjects are highly favoured over other courses by Indian international students in the US. A whopping 78% of them were enrolled in STEM programmes in the 2019-20 academic year, beating other fields such as business and the humanities by a wide margin. Many Indian students pursue postgraduate programmes in American universities due to their world-renowned strength in academic research. 

Indian PhD holders in STEM also tend to remain in the US — 87% of those who obtained their degree between 2000 to 2015 were found to be still living in the country. However, they face considerable hiccups in landing a green card compared to other foreign students due to country caps limiting their transition into permanent residents.