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India, US hold bilateral Consular Dialogue, discuss ways to enhance cooperation

New Delhi: India and the US on Friday held 11th bilateral Consular Dialogue in New Delhi and discussed ways to enhance cooperation on various issues, including extradition, mobility of students and professionals, safe and legal migration, protection of vulnerable women and children and enabling smooth travel of their respective nationals.

The Indian delegation led by KJ Srinivasa, Joint Secretary (CPV) in the Ministry of External Affairs, hosted the US delegation led by Ambassador Rena Bitter, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs, US Department of State, according to the Ministry of External Affairs press release.

In a press release, MEA stated, "The Dialogue reinforced the strong people-to-people ties and cooperation that both countries share across consular issues of mutual interest."

"Both sides discussed ways of enhancing cooperation on a wide range of issues such as extradition, mobility of students and professionals, safe and legal migration, protection of vulnerable women and children and enabling smooth travel of their respective nationals," it added.

The two sides welcomed the launch of a pilot in the US to adjudicate domestic renewals of certain categories of visas as proactive steps toward strengthening robust connections between people of two nations, according to the release. India and the US agreed to hold the next Consular Dialogue in the US in 2025.

On Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Rena Bitter, expressed her excitement about visiting India and highlighted the 'explosion' in travel between India and the US.

"We're very excited to be here. This is the 11th annual dialogue on consular issues that we've had with our partners in the Indian government. There are a lot of issues for us to cover and a lot of really good news for us to cover. We'll talk a lot about the incredible explosion in travel between the United States and India. Today, more Indians can travel to the United States than at any other time in our history. We'll also talk about some of the issues that reflect the really strong family ties between the United States and India," she said.

"More Indians can travel to the United States than at any other time in our history. Last year, this mission adjudicated 1.4 million visas, the most in many, many years. We've made tremendous progress. There is no wait time in virtually every category of visas that we issue. There is a wait time for some travellers, but there are mechanisms for being able to expedite humanitarian cases, and for being able to expedite business visas. But beyond that, in the last year, we have reduced wait times by 75 per cent. And the way that we have done that is by ensuring that we have. It is really important to us in Washington, again, because this bilateral relationship is so important," she added.

In 2023, the US Consular Team in India processed a record 1.4 million US visas in 2023, which is higher than ever, and has reduced visitor visa appointment wait times by 75 per cent, according to the US Embassy in India. Visitor visas (B1/B2) have rebounded to represent the second-highest number of applications in the US Mission's history -- over 7,00,000.

Process improvements and investments in staffing have brought the appointment wait time for visitor visas down from an average of 1,000 days to only 250 days around the country with minimal wait time in all categories, according to a statement from the US Embassy in India. In 2023, the US consular team in India issued over 140,000 student visas - more than in any other country in the world setting a record for the third year in a row. 

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