With Indo-US bonhomie at its best, the United States is all set to grant entry visas to a record number of Indians in the months to come.
In September and October this year, the first two months of the US fiscal, the US has issued 78 per cent more visas to Indians than in the same two months of last year. In fact, the US consular operations have had to requisition staff from all over the world to cope with the additional work.
Indians have bagged no less than 30 per cent of the visas granted by the US worldwide for skilled temporary workers. Last fiscal, over 127,000 such visas were issued to Indians. And at over 80,000, India has the largest number of foreign students in the US. In fiscal 2006, 24,622 Indian students got a US visa -- a 32 per cent increase over the previous year.
The US issued 358,734 temporary visas in fiscal 2006, up 14 per cent from 313,800 in the previous year. This was in addition over 30,000 immigrant visas. India is now second only to Mexico among all countries for visa demand.
It all began in September this year, when David Mulford, the US ambassador to India, made a commitment to eliminate the visa backlog at the earliest, keeping with the US policy of 'Secure Borders, Open Doors.'
By May 2007, the US is planning to achieve equilibrium between visa demand and processing facility in India. Thus, a new US consulate general building in Mumbai will be ready by 2008. The investment: a cool $100 million.
Another $20 million renovation at Delhi will see 10 new visa interviewing windows. Hyderabad will have a 15-window consular operation by 2008. While the Kolkata workspace will be doubled in 12 months, six additional interviewing windows are planned in Chennai this year.
Naturally, airlines are falling over each other to get a piece of the action.
The traffic between India and the US was 2.1 million passengers in 2005-06; it is projected to rise by at least 15 per cent in the current year. The average load factor on Air-India's 28 weekly flights to the US is as high as 85 per cent.
Several airlines, including state-owned Air-India and American Airlines, are planning to start non-stop flights between India and the US. Jet Airways plans to get into the market by August 2007, while Kingfisher is working on its local feeder network for its US operations, which it hopes to begin some time in 2008.