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IN AN indication of the growing ties between India and the US, the US embassy here expects to issue 8 lakh visas this year, a jump of 3 lakh from last year.

A major reason for the huge increase is the measures introduced by the embassy to cut down the visa backlog, this includes reducing the waiting time for people seeking visa appointments. A US visa appointment now takes six days, whereas earlier, it used to take upto six months. “We have mastered the backlog in visas. We expect to issue 8,00,000 visas from India. This will make India next only to Mexico in terms of the number of US visas issued. And we don’t even share a border with India!” US ambassador to India David C Mulford told reporters.

Indians are the largest recipients of the US H-1B visas, the category for temporary skilled workers, with more than half of the total being given to Indians. Thirty two percent more Indian students received visas between October and September 2006 than in the same period in 2005, compared to a 10% increase between the same months in 2005 and 2004.

The number of visas issued by the US is also being seen as an indication of the state of relations between the two countries. With the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal heralding a new era of ties, the focus has been on increasing business and trade ties. There have been concerted efforts by the US to increase business and people-to-people contacts. Mr Mulford also said that there will be a substantial increase in foreign direct investment from the US to India and that it is expected to cross a billion dollars in the coming 12 months.

The US embassy had announced earlier that it was expanding the Business Executive Programme for company employees and was holding talks with major Indian business chambers to identify companies whose employees would get visas on priority. Mr Mulford, however, said that getting visas takes comparatively longer in Mumbai because of lack of adequate staff, but added that corrective steps were being taken.

In another move, the Bush administration is also proposing to nearly double the cost of becoming an US citizen and drastically raise the cost of becoming a legal permanent resident. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the department of homeland security, announced on Thursday that it wants to raise the application fee for citizenship from $330 to $595 and the fee for becoming a legal permanent resident from $180 to $1,370.

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