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State Dept. Expands and Extends Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Waiver Program Through 2022

The State Department, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has expanded and extended its nonimmigrant visa interview waiver program through December 31, 2022. U.S. consular posts are permitted to adopt interview waiver policies at their discretion; they are not compelled to implement the new policies. U.S. consulate websites should be consulted regarding whether and to what degree a particular post is implementing an interview waiver program.

The current version of the nonimmigrant interview waiver program was scheduled to expire on December 31, 2021.  That program enabled consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying for any type of nonimmigrant visa in the same classification and whose visa expired within 48 months. Under the standard pre-COVID program, only applicants whose nonimmigrant visa expired within 12 months were eligible for an interview waiver. In September 2021, the State Department also implemented a separate interview waiver policy for certain F, M and academic J visa applicants, which has also been revised and extended.

A closer look

The new State Department interview waiver policy still enables consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying for any type of nonimmigrant visa in the same classification, whose visa expired within 48 months. This authority is now available to consulates indefinitely.

Until December 31, 2022, there are also additional options for individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visa applicants, and for F, M and academic J visa applicants. The following criteria apply to these visa types in order to qualify for interview waiver:

  • Foreign nationals must apply in their country of nationality or residence
  • Foreign nationals must meet all of the criteria in one of the following categories:
    • Previously issued any type of visa. Applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, may qualify if:
      • They have never been refused a visa, unless such refusal was overcome or waived; and
      • They have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility to obtaining a visa.
    • First-time applicants. First time applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they:
      • Have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility to obtaining a visa; and
      • Have previously traveled to the United States under the VWP using ESTA (This is a change from the prior F/M/J interview waiver accommodation).

Previous authority for the interview waiver of certain H-2 workers is also extended to December 31, 2022.

In all cases, even if a consular post implements the interview waiver program and an applicant meets the above requirements, consular officers may deem it necessary to refer the applicant for an interview after reviewing the visa application. Foreign nationals should build flexibility into their visa application plans.

What this means

Because U.S. consulates are not required to implement the new interview waiver policies, actual roll-out of the program will depend on each local consulate. Applicants are encouraged to review the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate for detailed information on what services are currently available as well as eligibility information and instructions on applying for a visa without an interview.

Other travel considerations

When considering travel abroad to apply for a visa, with or without an interview, foreign nationals should be aware of existing COVID-related restrictions and requirements. In response to the Omicron COVID-19 variant, President Joseph Biden issued a presidential proclamation imposing a COVID-19 public health travel ban which prohibits the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry of foreign nationals who have been physically present in the following Southern African countries within 14 days of their travel to the United States: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The restrictions took effect on November 29, 2021, but are expected to be lifted on December 31, 2021.

New rules for inbound international air travelers also remain in effect.  One-day pre-departure COVID testing is required for all international air travelers and COVID vaccination is required for most nonimmigrants traveling to the United States. Foreign nationals must also check the requirements and restrictions imposed by their destination country as policies and rules can change quickly in response to the COVID pandemic. 

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