New Delhi: Indians applying for US visa can now look forward to a hassle-free process with the US Embassy on Wednesday announcing a new visa processing system that simplifies fee payment and appointment schedules for the travel document.
The new system that will come into effect from September 26 will allow applicants to pay the visa application fees through Electronic Fund Transfer or with their mobile phones and collect their documents from 33 document pick-up locations in the country.
For the first time, applicants can schedule their appointments online or by phone by contacting a call centre whose representatives will answer queries of the applicants in English, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Telugu and Punjabi.
"It is our goal to make our visa process as efficient as possible to meet the increased demand for US visas worldwide...we are offering appointments by phone for the first time. The new global appointment schedule will offer group and expedited appointments," Julia Stanley, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs of the US Embassy, said.
She told a press conference that the major difference from the current system is that first-time applicants will need to schedule two appointments -- one for fingerprint collection at an Offsite Facilitation Centre and one for consular interview at the Embassy or consulates.
Responding to questions about the safety of documents as more than one location is involved in the processing, she said the US has always accorded "highest possible security" on visa issues and would keep all documents "very safely".
Under the new system, applicants will have more options when it comes to paying the visa fees through ETA, mobile phone and also by cash at over 1,800 Axis and Citibank branches.
Stanley said the applicants who renew their visa may not have to give their fingerprints more than once and expressed the hope that the number of applicants who do not need to visit the premises would grow markedly.
Stanley said the US would continue to issue 10-year, multiple-entry visas to all those who qualify and that visa applicants in India wait fewer than 10 days for their appointments and typically have their visas in hand within a week of their interviews.
"As the US-India relationship continues to grow, we look forward to supporting and strengthening the people-to-people ties between our two countries by facilitating travel with secure and efficient visa processing," she said.
Responding to questions, she said the US Embassy processes 700,000 applicants every year and a "vast majority" of them are successful in getting their visas.
On Indian students getting affected after some US universities were closed down, Stanley advised students to make use of the office of Education USA at the Embassy on selecting universities.