Need a US visa interview fast? A vacation in Bangkok may be the best way

Even as thousands of Indians face over year-long delays in getting interview dates for B-1 & B-2 US visitor visas, and in some cases for H-1B and L-1 work permit visas, a trend has emerged of using the ‘third country’ option to schedule interviews much faster. Some travel industry experts believe that this has opened a new post-pandemic tourism trend, with those Indians, who can afford it, combining a short overseas vacation with a US visa interview.
There are thousands of Indians, who do not qualify for waivers and are in queue for US visa interviews and have dates only in February next year or even later. This group includes corporate executives who need to visit the US for business meetings and parents who are planning to visit their children resident in America for weddings, graduation ceremonies and sometimes to offer support during medical treatment, childcare or pregnancy. Among the top countries which have emerged as alternative visa interview destinations for Indians are Thailand, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates; and Singapore.

A whopping 50,000 Indians have, in fact, already taken advantage of the facility to get their US visas on a fast track from overseas; in the first few months of this year; Donald L Heflin, minister-counselor for consular affairs at the Embassy of the US in New Delhi, told The Times of India in a recent interview. US deputy assistant secretary of state for visa services, Julie Stufft, too, told reporters in Washington DC recently that unprecedented arrangements had been set up by the State Department; with other US embassies in the world like Bangkok; to accommodate Indians who are seeking visas.
“I have had a client travel to Singapore, with his wife, recently for their L-1 US visa interviews. They had to wait there for a week for their passports to be returned by post to a local address with the visas stamped,” S. Vijay, founder & CEO of eTravelvalue India Pvt Ltd, told The Times of India. “Thailand is another hot destination where Indians are going for their B-1, B-2 visa interviews and Dubai is also popular. While it is taking about a week to ten days to get visa interviews and the passports stamped at these other countries; in India interview dates are available only around February next year despite the efforts by the US government to clear the backlog,” he said.
However, even as several Indians are looking at the option of travelling overseas for US visa interviews, there are some challenges that they face. While the basic process of application remains the same; the applicant has to travel to the selected destination for the interview process and stay there from the date of the appointment till process completion.
“The wait period for B-1, B-2 visa interview appointments in third countries varies from approximately 14 to 30 days. Interviews must be scheduled separately in the third countries. Applicants need to restart the entire process for application of B-1, B-2 visas from third countries; and are also required to pay the visa fee again,” says Rajeev Kale, president & country head, holidays, MICE, visa; Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.
“For my clients, the DS-160 application form had to be filed online again from the Singapore portal for US visas and the fees that had already have been paid in India, too, had to be paid again since they are not transferable,” explains S.Vijay.
The entire process of scheduling the visa interview date has to be started afresh by the applicants, even though they may have submitted all the documents already when applying in India. The visa fees paid in India will also not hold good and are not refunded either. “The traveller will have to choose the country with available appointment dates for B1, B-2 visas and plan their travel, visa and accommodation to the destination for around 14 days – from the date of the consular appointment till process completion and returning the passport (with the stamped visa) back to the traveller,” explains Daniel D’Souza, president & country head – holidays, SOTC Travel. “An applicant who has made payments for an interview and received an appointment date in India cannot reschedule their interviews to a third country. To shift the location of interview to a different country, the applicant will need to begin a fresh process including paying visa fees,” he adds.
The entire process right from completing the form DS-160 to scheduling a visa appointment must be done all over again on the US government portal for the consular post that applicants are planning to go to. “Those who have completed their application and scheduled an appointment in their home country, need to cancel this appointment and write to the support-India ID requesting for transfer of their ustraveldocs profile to the country where they wish to apply,” warns immigration lawyer Poorvi Chothani. She adds that this part of the procedure is important because when the applicant creates a new ID on the ustraveldocs portal of the third country, they will not be allowed to establish a profile even though it may have been created with a new email ID, till the documents are transferred. Besides, the visa fee payment will have to be done again in the country where the applicant is applying following the local protocol.
“The appointment wait times for non-residents of the country (where the application is being submitted) is definitely longer than for the residents of that country, but yet the wait times are considerably lower than in India. Non-resident appointment wait times can be seen at the next stage, after the correct visa priority category is selected by the applicant,” Chothani adds.
Checklist for overseas US visa interviews
Entire process of scheduling the visa interview date must be done afresh even if it had already been done earlier for embassy or consulates in India
US visa fee for relevant overseas consular office must be paid afresh following the protocol of that country. The visa fees paid in India will not be refunded
The country with available appointment dates for B1, B-2 visa interviews will have to be chosen and travel plans made including fixing US consular interview date; flight booking; accommodation and visa for relevant country
Applicants must stay in the third country from the consular appointment date till process completion and returning the passport (with the stamped visa) at local postal address
Those who have completed application and scheduled an appointment in India earlier, need to cancel this appointment and write to the support-India ID requesting for transfer of their ustraveldocs profile to the country where they wish to apply.

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