US missions in India resumed processing student visas on Monday but a scramble for interview slots among applicants who have to join American universities this fall led to glitches in the online system.
In a tweet the embassy said it was aware of the high demand for student visa appointments. “Please remember, do not refresh too often, as you may be locked out of your account. Appointments remain available at all posts, and we will continue to add appointments as conditions allow,” it said.
Students who kept refreshing in the hope of booking slots were eventually blocked for 72 hours for “suspicious activity”. By afternoon the site was “down for maintenance”.
The embassy’s tweet drew scores of replies from students and family members. “My account got locked without a prior warning. Many others are facing this issue too. Request you to unlock the accounts, at least this time,” said one. “Please empathise and let not our kids go through more stress,” a father tweeted.
The consulate in Mumbai had held a webinar on June 10 to hand out information on visas interviews and pre-boarding requirements. Officials had assured candidates that everyone would get a slot once the process opened. “Student visas remain a top priority for the US mission to India and we are making every attempt to facilitate student travel in time for the fall semester,” the embassy had said.
However, an aspirant who is flying out for a post-doctoral programme told The Times of India: “There was no clarity on the time when the embassy would open appointment slots. Many logged in a little after midnight. When we realised the site was not accepting bookings, we slept for a bit and logged in again early in the morning.”
The newspaper quoted counsellor Pratibha Jain as saying: “This is the first time the consulate website has crashed. I am surprised they did not anticipate the rush. Nobody was able to open the site. Going by the previous numbers about 80,000 to 1 lakh students must have logged in at the same time; it is like opening a two-by-two door for entry into a large stadium; there is going to be a stampede.”
Another counsellor added: “Ideally, the process should have been staggered.”