By Cora-Ann V. Pestaina
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into a third year, the U.S. Department of State (DOS), in recognition of the significant reduction in its visa processing capacity, is taking what it describes as “temporary steps to further our commitment to safely and efficiently reduce visa wait times while maintaining national security as our priority.” On December 23, 2021, the DOS published a press release announcing that consular officers are now temporarily authorized, through December 31, 2022, to waive in-person interviews for certain individual petition-based nonimmigrant work visas (including qualifying derivatives). This policy applies to individuals with a petition approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in specific visa categories which include the H-1B visa for individuals in Specialty Occupations; the H-3 visa for Trainee or Special Education Visitors; the L visa for Intracompany Transferees; the O-1 visa for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement; the P visa for Athletes, Artists, and Entertainers; and the Q visa for Participants in International Cultural Exchange Programs.
Specific conditions apply. Applicants:
- Must be applying for the visa in their country of nationality or residence.
- Must previously have been issued some type of visa.
- Must have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived.
- Must have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility for the visa requested.
First-time visa applicants in the qualifying categories:
- Must be citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP);
- Must have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility; and
- Must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
In addition, the Secretary of State extended previously approved policies to waive the visa interview for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants) through December 31, 2022. One change to the previous policy is that applicants eligible for the waiver because they are citizens or nationals of a VWP participating country must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA to qualify. Applicants must apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence. Similar to the policy for certain individual petition-based visa applicants, consular officers have discretion to waive the interview for F, M, and academic J visa applicants who were previously issued any type of visa; who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived; and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. First-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants must be citizens or nationals of a country that participates in VWP; must have previously traveled to the United States via an ESTA authorization; and must have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility for the visa requested.
In further extension of existing policy, any applicant who previously held a visa and whose visa expired within the 48 months prior to the date of application will continue to be eligible for an interview waiver for a visa application in the same classification until December 31, 2022.
Embassies and consulates may still require an in-person interview on a case-by-case basis and dependent upon local conditions. It is important to consult the specific embassy or consulate website for information prior to submitting a visa application.