US Counselor for Consular Affairs Don Heflin said that “tens of thousands” of appointments will open up on Monday across the country for the F, M and J visas.

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Money Visa Saturday, June 12, 2021 - 11:44

US embassy and consulates slots to apply for a visa will be opened up on June 14, the US Embassy said on Thursday. This comes amid a lot of uncertainty pertaining to travel, especially for students who have deferred admissions and are looking to attend university this year.

US Counselor for Consular Affairs Don Heflin answered a host of questions aimed at those looking to go to the US in the near future. He said that “tens of thousands” of appointments will open up on Monday across the country for the F, M and J visas. He said that they are looking to interview as much as they did in summer 2019.

In addition to student visa appointments, the US Embassy said it hopes to open visa application centres for those who are eligible for interview waiver or for dropbox processing. Most non-immigrant travel from India to the US is currently prohibited in light of the pandemic, and some groups have been exempted

Here were the most asked questions, and answers given by the US Embassy:

Q - Will more visa appointments open up later?

A - Don Heflin said that they are holding back about 25% of appointments, which will open up in July and August.

Q - When can students travel, and do they require a national interest exception?

A - Students whose joining date is August 1 or later can travel on a valid student visa up to 30 days before the program start date. This can be done without requiring a national interest exception, as it will be blanket applied to the F-1 student visa. The US Embassy said that the earliest travel date is mentioned on the right side of the Form I-20. Students with valid F-1 visas at the moment are also not allowed to travel (barring some exceptions), and do need a national interest exception.

If they are currently a student or a program start date before Aug 1, Heflin recommended that people contact their university or college to discuss their options.

Q - Will interview appointments that were cancelled due to the lockdown be honoured?

A - The US Embassy said that those whose appointments were cancelled will have to book a new one and those will not hold, and that no preference will be given to those who previously held an appointment. The fee will not have to be paid again, he said. 

Q - Recognition of Indian vaccines

A - Heflin said this is the discretion of the university or college, but it is safer to take a vaccine authorised by the WHO. 

Q - Can parents drop off their children who are going to study in the US?

A - For parents who want to drop off their kids (who would require B-1 (temporarily for business) or B-2 visas (tourism), Heflin said it will not be possible this year, and that these visas will not be issued. A national interest exception is required and that will not be given, he said. 

“We know that a lot of Indian parents are in the habit of taking their children to the US for school and perhaps staying a while to help them get settled in. It’s not going to happen this year. It’s going to have to be the old fashioned way where you say goodbye to them at Delhi, Mumbai or Hyderabad airport and I know that is a problem for a lot of people but we don’t have the latitude to grant NIEs [National Interest Exceptions] for B visas,” he said. 

This includes those who currently hold a B visa. He added that after a presidential directive is issued, those visa holders can fly.  

Q - Are electronic I-20 forms enough, or is a physical signed copy necessary?

A - A printout of the electronic form is sufficient, Heflin said.

Q - Issues pertaining to booking appointments

A - Heflin said that refreshing the page over and over again makes the page believe you are a bot, and locks you out. The embassy said that this is a worldwide policy, and it could lock people out of the system for roughly 48 hours, and the embassy will not be able to unlock the account. 

Q - Quarantine requirements

A - A RT-PCR test is required that was taken less within 72 hours before your flight, and it is recommended to get one after as well. But there are no quarantine requirements, and it could vary for the college or university the student is going to do. He added that whether you are vaccinated or not is not going to be taken into account. 

Q - Will emergency appointments be taken?

A - He added that emergency appointments will only apply for those looking to travel in the summer, and not if the student is going for the fall semester. 

Q - Are there different rules for curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT)?

A - The embassy said that the same rules apply — entry date starting August 1 and can travel 30 days prior to the same. 

Q - Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee validity

A - The SEVIS fee is valid for one year, and the embassy said those who paid last year will have to pay again. 

Q - Seeking a national interest exeception

A - The embassy said the person must write to the embassy and make their case, 

“In the case of a J visa or an H visa  - if a J-visa, if you're in the medical field just tell us if you are in medical research or a doctor. Otherwise, you have to show that you're going to support critical infrastructure,” he said. 

The embassy added that the visa holder should be applying at the post in India where their visa was originally issued. Otherwise, it will get bounced around and will get delayed, it said.

Q - Resumption of immigrant visa processing 

A - Heflin said it has resumed in small numbers and on July 1 they hope to take up about 50% of what it was normally a few days ago. “We wish it was 100% but we don't have the staffing,” he said.

Q - When might the Dropbox applications open for H-1B visa applicants?

A - Some will start opening up next week but it will be varied, he said. 

Read: Students going abroad face uncertainties over vaccine policies, possible travel delays

Also read: How Indian students’ plans to study in the US have been impacted by COVID-19

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