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US takes 'innovative' steps to shorten visa wait times in Dhaka

Published : 14 Dec 2022 10:22 PM | Updated : 15 Dec 2022 02:07 AM

The US embassy in Dhaka has taken "innovative" approaches to reduce wait times for visa interviews as the regular consular services, affected by the Covid-19 restrictions, resumed.

"We continue to identify innovations to reduce wait times for visa interviews," Consul General of Consular Services Nathan Flook said at a briefing on Wednesday at the American Center.

"To meet the high demand and reduce wait time, we are making special efforts to ensure as many applicants as possible receive interviews," he said.

"Over the last six months, our consular staff members have worked weekends and have interviewed nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants on special workdays, which we call “Super Friday.”

"During these Super Fridays, we have interviewed over 3,400 nonimmigrant visa applicants, including students and tourists, and almost 600 immigrant visa applicants to reduce wait times.

"Our staff have also expressed a desire to continue to work extra hours and weekends to reduce the wait times because we know the importance of this service to the public," he said.

Another way the U.S. Department of State has reduced the wait time is to waive in-person interviews for several key visa categories, including for many students.

"Consular officers now have the discretion to waive the interview requirement for student visa applicants if the student was previously issued any type of visa and meets certain criteria.

"In addition, applicants renewing nonimmigrant visas in the same classification within 48 months of their prior visa’s expiration are eligible to apply without an in-person interview, if they otherwise meet certain criteria.

"This approach has already reduced the wait time for an interview appointment at many embassies and consulates."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of State was forced to make "difficult decisions" regarding how consular sections should prioritize visa applications, given that staffing 

was at a limited capacity. 

"These actions resulted in limitations around the world by embassies as we had to work with limited capacity. As consular services resume, we are committed to resolving the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa backlog," the Consul General said.

He talked about the efforts to 

reduce these backlogs and to provide additional information on nonimmigrant visa processing. 

He also discussed about the visa consultants, commonly referred to as visa brokers.

"A visa consultant is not necessary to obtain a visa interview appointment. They often charge additional fees and provide inappropriate advice, like creating fake documents," he said.

"The best guidance for prospective visa applicants is to review information on our website, be prepared for 

their interview with any supporting documentation, and just provide factual and truthful answers during the visa process and interviews. 

"We caution prospective applicants that presenting false information and documents may not only result in a visa denial but may also result in an ineligibility that prevents future travel to the United States.

"Some applicants use a travel agency or consultant to book a nonimmigrant visa appointment, but there is no requirement to do so. 

"You can book appointments directly on our website. There is no additional cost to make an appointment; it is included in the application fee," he said.

Regarding student visas, the Consul General said, promoting the opportunity for qualified international students to study in the United States remains a top priority for the U.S. government. 

"We recognise the important contributions international students make to our college and university campuses, the rich benefits of academic cooperation and increased

cultural understanding, and the positive impact these graduates can have when returning to their home countries."

In 2022, the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka issued over 7,400 F-1 student visas, more than any year in the past decade.

 The U.S. Embassy prioritised students and exchange visitor visa interviews to 

ensure prospective students were able to make their program start dates. 

"We will continue to prioritize interviews for as many qualified students as possible, while also working to reduce 

wait times for other visa categories, such as the B1/B2 tourist and business visa.

"To help ensure that they can obtain a visa interview in sufficient time before their planned course starting dates, prospective students should seek the necessary I-20 form as early as possible from the sponsoring U.S. academic institution and schedule their visa appointment as soon as possible.

"It is important to be prepared for your student visa interview," he said.

"In addition to the I-20 form for students or the DS-2019 form for exchange visitors, all student visa applicants must also demonstrate that they are academically qualified and have sufficient funds to cover all expenses

in the United States, including tuition.

"Our priority will be to facilitate as many appointments as possible for first-time student visa applicants.

"Those applicants previously refused a visa, should be prepared to provide 

information that was not presented in their original interviews, or demonstrate that their circumstances have changed since their previous application. 

"If an applicant does decide to 

reapply, the individual must submit a new application form and photograph, pay the visa application fee again, and make a new appointment."

For nonimmigrant visa applicants, he gave few directives.

First, advance travel planning and applying early for a visa appointment are very important. If you plan to apply for a nonimmigrant visa to travel to the United States as a visitor or a student, 

try to apply as early as possible.

Second, applicants should monitor the appointment calendar on our website. Each day, there are some appointments that become available due to cancellations, and our office continues to open up additional appointment slots as conditions and resources allow. 

And third, applicants should ensure that they upload their current visa application or DS-160 at 

least two weeks before their scheduled interview. Scheduled appointments that do not have a current CEAC application form result in a cancellation.

Lastly, applicants with an urgent need to travel to the United States can consider requesting an emergency appointment, after they have already booked a regular appointment. 

"The instructions and the strict requirements for an emergency appointment are available on our website," he said.

The Consul General previously served as Deputy of the Consular Section at the US embassy in Dhaka.