Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
During the past two years of the pandemic, federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State have taken measures to accommodate their services and facilitate the issuance of visas in the consulates across the world in light of on-going safety concerns. The Department of State (DOS) took one such measure on December 23, 2021, granting consular officers the discretionary power to temporarily waive the in-person interview requirements for some non-immigrant visas through the end of 2022.
This new authorization applies to those applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P and Q visas who: 1) have a petition approved; 2) apply for a visa in their country of nationality/residence; 3) have been previously issued another type of visa; 4) have never been denied/refused a visa (except if denial was reversed or waived) and; 5) have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. The waiver is also available to first-time applicants under the same categories to citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating countries. The applicant must have traveled previously to the United States using authorization under the Electronic Systems for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
Additionally, DOS extended its previously approved policy of waiving visa interviews for eligible students, professors, research scholars and short-term scholars or specialists (F, M, or academic J Visa applicants) through the end of 2022. To be eligible, these applicants must 1) apply in their country of residence; 2) have been issued any visa in the past; 3) have never been refused a visa (exceptions made if denial reversed or waived); and 4) have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. First-time applicants under these categories must be applying in their own country, be a citizen or national of a country that participates in the VWP program, and have previously visited the United States with authorization through the ESTA.
Applicants renewing any visa within 48 months of expiration are also eligible for this interview waiver/drop box process.
The DOS has also stated that the waiver of the in-person interview process varies widely among countries. Each consular section will continuously review its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during the global pandemic and balance its priorities. Applicants should check the website of their U.S. consulate for information regarding the interview waiver procedures.