Acknowledging the long waiting time for United State visas, especially for tourists, Consul General Mike Hankey at the US Consulate General Mumbai, said Wednesday that measures are being taken to ease the issue.
Hankey, who was on his first visit to Gujarat as the CG, spoke on the scope of US-India partnerships in diplomatic arrangements such as I2U2 and said that the US wants to see economic growth that comes from “stable, transparent, rules-based systems”. Hankey was speaking at a media interaction as the final stop of his two-and-half-day visit to Gujarat.
Addressing issues of visa queues, Hankey said that “we are constantly adding appointments as our staffing level allows” and that now staffing levels have reached pre-pandemic levels.
“We applied our resources this year to make sure that all the students can go. We have got them there for the start of the school year. Now we are pivoting to support business connections. I know business is important here in Gujarat. So what we are looking to do is work as hard as we can to make sure that those people who are trying to create economic opportunities can have the connections made. We also put a lot of focus on those who are going for medical treatments and other categories that are time-bound..,” said Hankey, adding that more than 82,000 students received US visas this year, the highest ever for India, making it the leading country to send students to the US.
Noting that “there a lot of people”, including agents and others, “who give wrong or contradictory information” when it comes to visas, Hankey said that the CG is looking at “what can be done to give good information to Gujarati applicants about the visa process, about how to make sure it works smoothly and correctly”.
Responding to a question by The Indian Express on what kind of scope and opportunities the US is looking at in India and Gujarat when it comes to diplomatic arrangements such as I2U2 and Quad, Hankey said, “The basic premise here is that the US seeks partnerships with countries including with India on what our shared goals are for a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. We want to see economic growth that comes from stable, transparent, rules-based systems…I think there are a lot of opportunities..seeing the many world-class businesses that operate in Gujarat. I think there are many opportunities therefore to consider where Gujarati businesses can share knowledge and insights. I think the specifics of how to implement any of these international arrangements are going to be driven by our capital-level discussion, which is going very well but is still ongoing.”
Hankey said that a US delegation will be attending the Defence Expo next month. “What we would like to see is relationships between institutions directly and what our role at the Consulate would be is to make sure that US firms and universities understand the great potential and opportunity that is here in Western India.”
Listing the many scopes of areas that US-India looks to work at and specifically in Gujarat, Hankey pointed out that these include climate change and economic growth. “The meetings that I’ve had with senior government officials, including with the chief minister, (is to) really focus on what we can do together through our shared commitments to build economic ties and opportunities and to achieve our climate goals. This would probably be one of the most important areas for us to work on jointly and the approach that we seek to take from our side and my team from Mumbai will try to push for, is where we can see where we can build economic opportunities for both partners…We can see both sides growing — Joint partnerships in research, joint ventures in business — especially in emerging technology areas such as climate and technology.”
Education too is a focus area, he said, adding, that an in-person trade delegation flew from the US to India this year, where collaborative partnerships by US universities have been done with Indian universities, in a bid to expand the sector, such as perhaps through partnerships that bring a shared curriculum — for example, with two years of study in India and next two years in the US. Hankey added that such deliberations have taken place between “22 universities in the US and dozens of Indian universities.”
Commenting on the US’s interest in startups in India, Hankey said, “There’s a new US govt agency that started three years ago called the Development Finance Corporation,..and we are focused on enabling new sector-changing initiatives. We’re trying to put money in businesses and technologies that can change the way the entire sector works.”
In his Gujarat tour, Hankey met with government officials and political leaders across the political spectrum, including Gujarat CM Bhupendra Patel, Gujarat BJP president CR Patil, Aam Aadmi Party Gujarat office bearers Gopal Italia and Manoj Sorathia, and Gujarat Congress leaders including spokesperson Manish Doshi, that he termed to be an exercise towards getting a “better understanding of what the political landscape here is”.
Hankey met with business leaders, including Zydus’ chairman Pankaj Patel and managing director Sharvil Patel, and also visited GIFT for a tour along with meeting its MD Tapan Ray along with visits to the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A), in his first visit to Gujarat since taking charge as Consul General in Mumbai last month.