Interactive Breakfast Meeting with Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, Joseph M. Pomper
Today’s business travel – both domestic and international is on the increase as more and more business travelers take to the skies for business meetings. In the past, international business travel was restricted to senior management personnel, but now even junior executives have international business assignments that bring greater global mobility in the workforce. Obtaining a visa has therefore become a vital necessity to facilitate business across borders.
To gain a better understanding on the adjudication process at the U.S. Embassy and its Consulates and to interact with members of the global mobility teams from various member companies, a breakfast meeting was organized at the Hilton Chennai on 23rd June. The main guest speakers were Mr. Joseph M. Pomper, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs, U.S. Embassy, New Delhi and Mr. Charles E. Luoma-Overstreet, Chief of the Consular Section, U.S. Consulate, Chennai.
Mr. Pomper began his address by saying that economic and people-to-people ties form a key pillar for the growing U.S.-India strategic partnership. Two-way trade and investment between the nations have reached new heights. The two largest democracies continue to expand existing cooperation and efforts as well as launch new initiatives to bring about mutual economic prosperity as well as to collaborate to address global challenges. He said that the U.S. and India were working on several partnership programs, some of which include commercial, trade, and investment partnerships, infrastructure and smart cities collaboration, and smart city development in Ajmer, Allahabad, and Visakhapatnam. Science, technology and health cooperation have continued to strengthen also.
Mr. Pomper recognized the growing academic and tourism links and said the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India issued more than 76,000 student visas in 2015. Indian students accounted for the second-largest group of foreign students in the United States in the 2014-2015 school year, with the number of students from India in the United States increasing by over 29% to a record high of nearly 133,000. Through the ‘Passport to India’ program, the U.S. government encourages American students to study abroad in India. Similarly, the implementation of the Global Entry Program will facilitate travel between the two countries.
Mr. Pomper explained that Consulates of the United States of America in India are facing a staff shortage in proportion to the number of visa applications, and people are advised to apply well in advance for visas. He added that, “In the last five years, the demand for visas has increased by 80%, while the staffing has remained static. While we have greatly improved efficiency, accommodating visa demand on this scale requires adequate staffing.” The average waiting time for getting a visa appointment is about four weeks now. The waiting time earlier used to be about a week or a week and half, according to Charles E. Luoma-Overstreet, Chief of the Consular Section, U.S. Consulate, Chennai. The consulate processes about 1,000 to 1,500 visas a day, he said. Mr. Luoma-Overstreet said Chennai was one of the busiest visa processing centres in India. Out of total of 1.1 million visa applications adjudicated in India last year, Chennai processed 2.8 lakh applications.
Mr. Pomper said, “Presently, we are striving to keep interview appointment waiting time within four weeks, though some posts are exceeding that during the busy summer season.” He added that anyone who had received U.S. visas earlier and have no other issues can make use of the interview waiver program. All applicants were advised to plan ahead and apply early.