Six additional visa interview windows will be added this week at the United States Consulate in Chennai to help eliminate the visa backlog.

Our goal is to totally eliminate the visa backlog by March 31,” says U.S. Vice-Consul Jimmy Mauldin.

Speaking on the sidelines of a business forum organised by the U.S. State of Virginia and the Confederation of Indian Industry here, Mr. Mauldin said a new pre-screening facility would also be in place by April.

A separate area was being set up to fingerprint visa applicants. “We are strategically planning for the future.”

Backlog comes down
The backlog across India had come down from 94,047 applicants waiting for interviews on October 1, 2006 to 32,674 by January 13, 2007. The wait time had fallen from 6 months to 12 days, and the goal was not to let business travellers and students wait more than a week for a visa interview.

Pointing out that “locating a business in the U.S. would provide readily available access to a market of 300 million people with high disposable incomes,” Mr. Mauldin suggested healthcare and energy as two of the key sectors for investment.

Both were likely to see increased government spending in the near future, he said, pointing to indications from President Bush’s recent State of the Union address and policy analysts. They also topped the agenda for private equity investors. Other potential sectors included software solutions for online retailing and production of luxury items.

Prime location
Virginia was a prime location for Indian businesses, according to Kimberly Weir of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

“If you’ve been to Washington D.C, you probably went through Virginia,” she said, pointing to the fact that both the airports that service the capital, Dulles and National, are in Virginia.

Talks are on with Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines to start direct air links between Dulles and New Delhi, possibly by April.

Shipping link
Russell J Held of the Virginia Port Authority said Maersk was likely to start a direct container shipping link from the Chennai port by March.

Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, along with the State’s Secretaries for Technology and Commerce, would lead a business delegation to India on April 23, said Ms. Weir.

Virginia, ranked No.1 State for business by, had excellent distribution infrastructure, a skilled workforce and low business costs.