Skift Take

Eric Garcetti wants more Americans to visit India — and he wants more Indians to visit the U.S. He talked to President Biden about visa wait times.

The first time that Eric Garcetti stayed at the U.S. Embassy in India was during his college years. A friend’s father had been appointed the U.S. Ambassador, and Garcetti was invited to join on a trip. He had no idea that the embassy would become his home years later.

Garcetti, who was confirmed as the U.S. Ambassador to India in 2023, shared that story and more during a conversation with Skift CEO Rafat Ali at the Skift India Summit March 13. Garcetti served as the mayor of Los Angeles from 2013 to 2022.

Garcetti’s detailed his personal connection with India, efforts in promoting U.S.-India relations, and discussions on tourism, visas, and more.

Here are some of Garcetti’s thoughts on those topics, edited for length and clarity. Watch the full interview below.

Garcetti’s first trip to India was at age 14.

Garcetti: So I first came to India — Delhi was the first stop — in 1985. I was 14 years old. My sister is two years older. And I came here because my parents, they had met in the travel industry. They raised us with an ethic that if they ever had a nickel or a dime more, they didn’t put into a nicer car or a nicer house. They would send us on trips, not vacations, but trips. And so they brought us here and this place captured my heart. I loved it. We went to Delhi, Bombay, Johntinolora, Barnarsi, Jipru, Udaipor, saw kind of the highlights.

Garcetti returned to India at age 19.

Garcetti: I came back when I was 19 because my college roommate said, “My father has just become the U.S ambassador to India. Do you want to go to India?” So my second trip was actually staying at the U.S. embassy here with an ambassador, never dreaming that one day I’d actually be in that position.

U.S. President Joe Biden asked Garcetti to improve long visa wait times for Indians.

Garcetti: For any embassy, it might be sexy to do diplomacy and defense deals and this and that, but really what our bread-and-butter is, is visas. So I’ve really dived into this, and President Biden said to me, “Can you work hard to bring down the visa wait time?” I don’t know this for sure, but I bet it’s the only time a United States president has told an ambassador, please work on visa issues. Because we all have Indian friends who all day long are lighting up our emails, our phones, our social media handles.

The embassy has reduced the visa wait time from 1,000 to 250 days.

Garcetti: I’m very proud of what we’ve done in less than a year here. We increased by 60-plus percent the number of visas that we adjudicated and gave out last year, a brand new record. And we reduced by 75% the wait time. It’s now more like about 250 [days] for new visas.

And remember, there’s 5 million Indians that already have visas that can travel and come back, and those are usually good for a good decade. We’ve brought those times down by really building out our facilities and getting more out of the same number of people.

Indians are more interested in visiting the U.S. than the reverse, but Garcetti believes that is changing.

Garcetti: If you had to describe the U.S.-India relationship, and it was a bridge: From India to the U.S., it’s a beautiful steel-reinforced four-lane highway bridge that is just gorgeous to look at. From the U.S. to India, it’s like a rickety rope bridge with every other plank missing.

In other words, the amount of action coming from [India] to the United States — whether that’s students, whether that’s just knowledge about America — is very high. Americans don’t know India and Indians, like India and Indians know America and Americans. And I think there’s an awakening happening now, so this is going to be more of a two-way street of people coming here.

Garcetti likes to connect with Indians through food.

Garcetti: Indian food is as diverse as any place in the world. One of the ways I’ve tried to engage as a diplomat is through food. First of all, it’s a way to connect with Indians. I’ve been to 22 of the 36 states and territories. I’ll make a video and eat the food and people, no pun intended, eat it up. I always say being a good diplomat is putting a mirror up to the people where you’re living and reminding them what they love best about themselves.

The infrastructure for travel in India is getting better, and that will help with tourism.

India’s opening a new airport a week. Let that settle in for a second. It’s huge. The airline Indigo, which I just flew, is one of the fastest growing. It’ll be the number one airline, probably in the world, in a couple of years in terms of passenger volume. All these [Indian airlines] are turning around from [their poor] reputation.

I think there’s a lot of work to be done to promote India as a tourism destination. I think that all the ingredients are there now. We just have to execute.

Garcetti was key in bringing cricket to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Garcetti: I never would’ve imagined that all of these things would come together. I didn’t know that I’d be ambassador to India, let alone when India was hosting the International Olympic Committee here a few months ago for the first time in over 40 years … This is the biggest, most watched sport that’s not in the Olympics. And we resolved it. I got to at that meeting, announce that in 2028 for men and women, we will have cricket in the Olympics.

And that move alone, by the way, made the Olympic rights here in India go from $50,000 a year to tens of millions, if not more. So that will actually help us build some cricket infrastructure in Los Angeles.

There’s a lot of money in cricket.

Garcetti: I think it’ll take about a decade. Here’s your investment tip: Invest in major league cricket now. The payoff will be big in the future. It’s kind of like major league soccer. Everybody said wasn’t going to succeed, and now those teams are so big. The Indian Premier League franchises are the second most valuable teams in the world for any sport after NFL — more than premier league soccer or football, more than NBA teams. It’s crazy how much value is in there.

‘The Indian dream is what we used to refer to as the American dream.’

The U.S.-India relationship is probably the most consequential in the world today. And that’s what the president says. And I know no president has ever said that. The old cliche was you couldn’t make it as a CEO if you’re Indian American. Now, you can’t make it as a CEO if you’re not Indian American. I mean, it’s across the board.

I think people of Indian origin are about 1.4% of the population. It’s 6% of the tax base of America. It’s not just that we got the cream of the crop coming from India. It’s also, I think, that the Indian dream is what we used to refer to as the American dream. We should learn from India how to revive our own confidence about that.


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Tags: cricket, Eric Garcetti, india, indigo, indigo airlines, sis2024, skift live, visas

Photo credit: Pictured: Eric Garcetti at the Skift India Summit

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