New Delhi: Hailing the USA's recent achievements of issuing over 82,000 student visas this summer, Don Heflin, Minister Counsellor for Consular Affairs US Embassy in New Delhi said India is the number one country for sending students to United States colleges and universities.
Last week, US diplomatic missions in India issued a record-breaking 82,000 student visas between May and June 2022 - more than any other country in the world. "We issued 82,000 student visas this summer which is a record for us. Last year we set a record of issuing 62000 and the interesting thing is that this year because of the Covid related problems in other countries, India is the number one country for sending students to US colleges and Universities," Heflin told ANI in an exclusive interview.
'Nothing illegal about going to agents but be aware'
When asked if he is okay with using agents for booking slots, Heflin said that there is nothing illegal about it but he cautioned students to stay away from fake documents and false statements.
"There is nothing illegal about it. I don't think you need an agent just to book a slot with us. Hopefully, they are providing some other advising services. One caution that we would give people when you talk to anyone who tries to sell you a package of fake documents or tells you to make false statements, just walk out immediately because that can get you in real trouble in your student visas," Heflin added.
Here's what you can do to avoid being locked out of systems
Responding to the question of complaints about the system locking you out if you keep checking and if there is any way to avoid getting locked, Don advised people to check the website two or three times a day to prevent themselves from locking out.
"We advise people to check our site two or three times a day. That won't get you locked out and appointments go so fast that if you are checking two or three times a day, you miss them. If you check them over and over and over and watch out for 72 hours then it's really a bummer and we don't like that to happen to people," he said.
100 percent staffing should solve the problems
Stressing further on complaints of various students travelling to Chennai and other consulates for the appointment, Heflin added that by the next summer they may have 100 percent staffing so that things should even out.
"This is a result of when Covid froze everything up. We have different global advice consuls in different places. So, people rushed for appointments and people flew across the country. Now, we don't mind that when it's a Business person or maybe a Graduate student, maybe an H1 worker. By the next summer, we're going to be much closer to 100% staffing. So, things should even out. We think that they will get the appointment at the consul, which is nearest to their home."
Do students need visa stamping while being on OPT?
Responding to the question on students needing visa stamping who are in the US on an OPT (Optional Practical Training), Heflin said that this summer Embassy started with dropbox appointments, for students, which they have never been able to do before.
"This gets really confusing for our graduates. If you're in the US on OPT and you're in status with your school and with the immigration service, you don't have to get a new visa unless you want to leave the country. If you're not leaving the country, it's perfectly legal to keep doing what you're doing. But if you're gonna leave the country, you need to come back here and get a visa. Now, the good news is that this summer, we started with dropbox appointments for students, which we've never been able to do before, and that means somebody in that situation, could grab a Dropbox appointment. They don't go as fast as the first time, but you can grab a dropbox appointment, and then build your trip to India around that", added Heflin.
The embassy also said that the US Embassy in New Delhi and four consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai prioritised the processing of student visa applications from May to August to ensure that as many qualified students as possible made it to their programs of study in time for scheduled start dates.
Charge d'Affaires Patricia Lacina hailed the US Mission in India's achievement commenting, "We are happy to see so many students were able to receive visas and reach their universities after the delays caused in previous years by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Nearly 20 percent of all international students in the US, Indians
Indian students comprise nearly 20 percent of all international students studying in the United States, with the Open Doors report in 2021 showing there were 167,582 students from India in the 2020-2021 academic year.
In 2020, the US government and US higher-education institutions implemented measures to safely welcome international students in person, online, and via hybrid learning methods, while providing a guarantee that opportunities for resources to international students remained robust.