NEW DELHI: The US mission in India is "actively working" to accommodate as many student visa applicants as possible in July and August, and facilitating their legitimate travel remained a top priority for it, a senior American diplomat said on Sunday.
Don Heflin, the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs at the US embassy, also said that the US-bound students will not require any proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the country.
They will need a negative report of their COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to their departure.
There has been growing anxiety among a sizeable number of Indian students aspiring to fly to the US for higher studies in view of certain restrictions in getting visa appointments due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The embassy will start giving visa interview slots for Indian students from Monday.
"We recognise the stress and anxiety this has caused to students and their families, and we are actively working to accommodate as many student visa applicants as possible in July and August.
Facilitating legitimate student travel to the United States remains a top priority for the US Mission to India," Heflin told PTI in an interview.
The official was asked about the rising uncertainty among the Indian students wanting to travel to the US, which had imposed fresh travel restrictions in May.
"Students returning to academic programmes that resume on or after August 1 may travel to the United States up to 30 days before the programme resumes.
There is no National Interest Exception required in this situation," he said.
"We recommend continuing students discuss their specific resumption plans with their respective universities to develop a travel timeline," Heflin said.
The National Interest Exceptions (NIE) allow travel to the US for persons whose entry is considered of national interest.
"We intend to start an intensive two months of interviewing student visa applicants on July 1.
We will plan to open as many appointments as we can safely accommodate, based on local pandemic conditions across India," Heflin said.
"Student visa applicants do not need an expedited appointment to schedule their visa interview.
On June 14, we will open July and August appointments for students," he added.
Asked about apprehensions relating to vaccination, the official said proof of vaccination is not required to enter the United States.
"Please note that proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, taken within 72 hours of your flight's departure, is required to board a flight and for entry into the United States.
"While proof of vaccination is not required to enter the United States, individual schools or institutions may set their own requirements.
The US education system operates independently from the federal government, and students should consult closely with their host institution to ensure compliance with individual vaccination requirements," he added.
Heflin said there are more than 4,500 accredited universities in the US that operate autonomously, and the policy adopted by one school for its students and teaching community may not be the same as that for another one.
Asked if an exception will be considered for a parent who wishes to accompany a student headed to the US, the official said parents travelling to the country, in that case, will be classified as tourists.
"Tourist travel remains prohibited pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 10199," he said.
In view of surging COVID-19 infections in India, President Joe Biden authorised a travel ban for certain nonimmigrants from India under a Presidential Proclamation that came into effect on May 4.
"Presidential Proclamation 10199 only applies to non-citizens who have been physically present in India within the 14 days preceding their application for entry to the United States.
The US Embassy and US Consulates do not provide advice on specific travel planning," the official said.
He was asked if a student can fly to another country to apply for a US student visa, and stay quarantined there for 14 days before entering the US.
"Please note that F and M-visa holders travelling from India will be able to enter the US within 30 days of a new programme start date or programme resumption date that is on or after August 1.
This means that some students will be eligible to travel as early as July 2.
No National Interest Exception is required in these cases," he said.
Heflin said student visa applicants with a cancelled appointment will need to make a new appointment and that new student visa appointments will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Asked if dependents of someone having a valid H1B visa are considered for NIE waiver, he said such people, who have definite plans to travel and can demonstrate their qualification for an NIE, may contact the embassy or consulate.
He said nonimmigrant visa holders, including those having H1-B and who are not subject to Presidential Proclamation 10199 based on their familial relationship to a US citizen or LPR (Lawful Permanent Resident) spouse or unmarried minor child do not need an NIE.
"Such travellers should bring proof of the qualifying relationship to present to airline officials when initiating travel to the United States," he said.
To a query on whether immediate family members of a US citizen can get an expedited visa if the US citizen is planning to travel soon, Heflin said expedited visa appointments are adjudicated based on the applicant's purpose of travel.
"Visa applicants with an urgent need to travel to the US, for example, for lifesaving medical treatment, may apply for an expedited visa appointment.
"Applicants requesting an expedited appointment must also submit evidence that they are not subject to Presidential Proclamation 10199 or may otherwise qualify for a national interest exception from these travel restrictions," he said.
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