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UNITED STATES: Consular Officers Authorized to Waive In-Person Interview Requirements for Certain Non-Immigrant Visa Applicants

Effective through December 31, 2022, the U.S. State Department has authorized consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for the following groups of visa applicants:

  • Applicants renewing any nonimmigrant visa within 48 months of expiration, if the visa is in the same category as the expired visa;
  • Eligible H-2 applicants – current policy has been extended through December 31, 2022;
  • Eligible temporary employment nonimmigrant visa applicants applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas – see below for further details; and
  • Certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists applying for F, M, and Academic J visas – current policy has been extended through December 31, 2022 with additional modifications. See below for further details.

Eligible Visas and Qualifying Criteria

Temporary Employment Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants

Applicants filing H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, or Q visa applications must meet the following criteria to be eligible for their in-person interview to be waived:

  • Applying in their country of nationality or residence.
  • If the applicant has been previously issued any type of U.S. visa, they must also:
    • Never have been previously refused a U.S. visa – unless such refusal was overcome or waived; and
    • Have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility to obtaining a visa.
  • If the applicant is a first-time U.S. visa applicant, they must:
    • Be a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country; and
    • Have previously traveled to the U.S. under the VWP using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA); and
    • Have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility to obtaining a visa.

Students, Professor, Research Scholars, Short-Term Scholars, or Specialists

Applicants filing F, M, and Academic J visa applications must meet the same criteria as the above-listed requirements for temporary employment nonimmigrant visa applicants. Note that this policy was previously announced; however, first-time U.S. visa applicants must now have previously traveled to the U.S. under the VWP using the ESTA in order to qualify.

Additional Considerations

Consulate-Specific Implementation

It is important to note that this is not a blanket policy; rather, each U.S. Consulate has the ability to implement the policy as they see fit or as they are able based on local COVID-19 protocols and staffing. Applicants are strongly advised to check with the relevant U.S. consulate website to determine the current status of the protocols. A full list of consulates can be found here.

Decisions at Consular Officers’ Discretion

Meeting eligibility criteria will not guarantee that an applicant’s in-person interview is waived. Consular officers reserve the right to require an in-person interview based on their own discretion. Applicants should not rely on the assumption that their in-person interview will be waived.

Other COVID-19 Related Travel Restrictions

Applicants should always closely monitor the current COVID-19 related travel restrictions from the U.S. and their home country. For up-to-date travel and entry requirements throughout the world, readers are encouraged to visit CIBTVisas and Newland Chase’s free, interactive Entry Guide resource.

Newland Chase Insights

The in-person interview stage of the U.S. visa application process continues to be a major hurdle for foreign nationals as reduced staffing and other COVID-19 related restrictions have caused scheduling delays. Against this backdrop, the expansion of in-person interview waivers is welcome news indeed. Although there are many determining factors in whether an in-person interview waiver is granted, approved individuals will face an easier, faster, and more streamlined visa application process.

As with any planned travel during the pandemic, however, it remains crucial to remain flexible, understand that policies and procedures may change at a moment’s notice, and that these waivers will be issued on a case-by-case basis.

Finally, the full announcement from the U.S. State Department can be found here.

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Newland Chase dedicated contact or submit an inquiry here should you have any specific questions regarding this announcement.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this immigration alert has been abridged from laws, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the applicability of this information, please contact Peregrine © 2021 Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd.