In an effort to combat growing backlogs and extended consular delays caused by the COID-19 pandemic and staffing issues, the State Department has authorized the waiver of consular interviews for certain visa applicants.
The announcement, by the Secretary of State, authorizes consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain temporary employment based non-immigrant visa applicants who have an underlying petition approved by USCIS.
This authorization, done in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, applies to temporary workers applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who meet certain conditions, including, but not limited to, that they are applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.
Under this new authorization, consular officers have been given broad discretion to waive the visa interview requirement for individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived. An additional requirement is that these individuals must not have any apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility concerns.
Consular Officers also have been granted discretion in waiving the visa interview requirement for any first-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Again, these applicants must not have any apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. Moreover, an applicant must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
In addition to this announcement, the Secretary of State also extended the interview waiver authorization to certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). While this waiver authorization had previously been granted, the Secretary of State has extended this benefit through 12/31/2022. Of note is a change to the prior policy which now requires that applicants eligible for the waiver authority 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.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State has extended a previously approved policy allowing for the waiver of certain H-2 (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers) applicants through the end of 2022.
Finally, applicants seeking to renew any type of visa within 48 months of expiration are also eligible for an interview waiver, under the discretion of the consular officer. Previous policies allowed applicants seeking to renew a visa within 12 months of expiration to have their interviews waived. This policy has now been expended such that if the visa has expired within the last 48 months, an applicant can mail in the relevant application in lieu of appearing in person. Again, the decision to grant a waiver is solely in the discretion of the consular post.
This is yet another policy implemented by the Department of State that seeks to combat growing consular delays given heavy backlogs and reduced staff and processing at embassies and consulates worldwide.
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