In a long-awaited effort to address delays and backlogs that have arisen due to consular closures and limited staffing over the last year-and-a-half, on December 23, 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced that it is authorizing consular officers through the end of 2022 to waive the in-person interview/appointment requirement for certain temporary/nonimmigrant visa applicants. The new guidance applies to those applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who are applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence. Under this new guidance, consular officers are granted discretion to waive the interview requirement for individuals applying for these visa types who were previously issued any type of U.S. visa.

Applicants who have been refused a visa in the past do not qualify unless that refusal was overcome or waived and there is no apparent or potential ineligibility. Consular officers also have the discretion to waive the interview requirement for those applying for H-1, H-2, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas for the first time who are citizens of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating country if there is no apparent or potential ineligibility and the individual has previously traveled to the United States using authorization under the Visa Waiver Program/ESTA.

In addition, the Department of State’s announcement also serves to extend, through December 31, 2022, the previously announced policy to allow for a waiver of visa interviews for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). However, applicants eligible for waiver authority because they are citizens or nationals of a VWP-participating country now must have previously traveled to the United States using an ESTA authorization to qualify. In addition, consular officers have the authority to waive visa interviews for F, M, and academic J visa applicants previously issued any type of visa, provided they have not been refused a visa that was not subsequently overcome or waived, and where there is no apparent or potential ineligibility.

Finally, last week’s announcement also confirms that the authorization previously provided to consular officers to waive the in-person interview for applicants renewing a visa in the same visa class within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration has been extended indefinitely. This broad language suggests that interview waivers could be extended even to renewals for B-1/B-2 applicants, many of whom would benefit given lengthy visa appointment wait times at certain consular posts.

It is important to note, however, that all of the above provisions are within the discretion of consular posts and/or individual consular officers. Applicants are not entitled to a waiver of the in-person interview requirement even if they satisfy the criteria above; rather, the application of this guidance may vary widely among countries and even among individual consular posts depending on consular resources and local conditions. The Department of State has therefore urged all applicants to diligently monitor the website of the particular consular post in question to confirm the level of services being offered and any limitations on eligibility for interview waivers.

It is also important to note that applicants are still required to be physically present in their country of nationality or residence in order to receive the new visa. It is not possible to remain physically present in the U.S. and to receive a new U.S. visa. The procedure to request an interview waiver varies from post to post; however, it is generally as follows:

  • Submit DS-160 Form;
  • Pay Machine Readable Visa (“MRV”) fee; and
  • Request interview waiver through visa appointment scheduling website:
    • If the interview waiver is granted, the post will issue a notice confirming the waiver. This notice must be printed and included in the visa application package submitted to the consulate; or
    • If the interview waiver is not granted, the applicant will be required to schedule a visa interview.

If the interview waiver is granted, the applicant must submit his or her visa application package, including the applicant’s passport, as directed by the consulate’s website. Upon approval, the visa will be affixed to a blank passport page and the passport will be returned to the applicant within the country of visa issuance. The passport and visa can then be used to enter the United States.

If you have questions about visa processing for yourself or your employees, contact the Harris Beach immigration team to discuss the options that may be available to you. Our Immigration Law Practice Group includes immigration attorneys that work across New York state in our Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse offices. Our immigration lawyers focus on strategies – including immigrant visas for permanent U.S. resident status and temporary visas for foreign nationals – to ensure that companies are able to hire, transfer, and retain the brightest and best non-U.S. talent.