Last Updated on: February 9, 2022
On December 23, 2021, the U.S. Secretary of State in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security made an announcement that expands the scope for visa interview waiver for certain individual petition based non-immigrant visas. The key takeaways from this announcement are listed below.
- Temporary Relaxation of Eligibility within 48 Months of Expiry of Previous Visa Extended for Certain Categories.
- Scope further expanded for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visa applicants as long as they were previously issued a visa of any category, irrespective of when the most recent visa expired.
Earlier, certain U.S. non-immigrant visa applicants were eligible to renew their U.S. visas using the drop-box facility if the previous visa expired within 12 months prior to the date of application. In March 2021, this was temporarily relaxed, and eligible visa applicants could renew their visas if the previous visa of the same category expired within the last 48 months. This temporary relaxation was granted until December 31, 2021.
The December 23, 2021, announcement extends this temporary relaxation until December 31, 2022. With this relaxation, applicants renewing any visa within 48 months of expiration are also eligible for an interview waiver.
- Drop box eligibility for Certain Individual Petition Based Non-Immigrant Visas Expanded
Temporary workers applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas are eligible for an interview waiver if they meet all the following conditions:
- Applicants are applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence
- Applicants were previously issued any type of U.S. visa
- Applicants have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived
- Applicants have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility
Additionally first-time H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will also qualify for the interview waiver program provided the applicants:
- Have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility and
- Have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
- Changes Applicable to F, M, and academic J visa applicants
The above relaxation in the rules pertaining to visa applicants in certain categories also applies to certain F, M, and academic J visa applicants. The change is that the applicant must apply for a visa from his/her country of nationality or residence.
First time applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in VWP, are eligible for the drop box if they have previously traveled to the United States via an ESTA authorization and have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility to receive a visa.
Summary and Conclusion
This is a welcome Christmas and New Year Gift, at least on the face of it! It is important to remember that this announcement has only authorized consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement through the end of 2022. Consular officers, depending on their local conditions will exercise this discretion. This announcement can be found here.
In many countries, applicants need to schedule an appointment for drop-box. Despite the best efforts of U.S. agencies to relax the scope of interview waivers with the intent of easing the visa application process, the fact remains that visa appointments continue to be unavailable for genuine visa applicants due to staffing shortages during the ongoing pandemic and heavy pent up demand! This applies to cases requiring in-person appearances and for cases eligible for the drop box. We expect that more interview and drop box slots to be available in the coming year, facilitating legitimate travel to the United States.