US Visa Stamping at Consulates usually involves in-person interview, unless you qualify for the Interview Waiver Eligibility, which is popularly called as Dropbox Visa Appointment. In many cases, US Visa Dropbox Appointment is a must, if you are eligible for it. In light of COVID and safety of everyone, US Department of State has announced small change in eligibility criteria for interview waiver or Dropbox stamping, we will cover that details in this article.
As a background, let’s quickly review the Dropbox process.
US Visa Stamping – In-Person Interview vs. Dropbox
In general, when you are applying for a new US Visa, as part of process to apply for US Visa, you would give biometrics and then attend in-person visa interview. But, for renewing your existing US Visa, if you meet certain criteria, then you do not have to appear for in-person interview. You can submit your visa related documents at Visa Application Center and your US visa maybe issued without interview.
Below are the typical general requirements to be eligible for Dropbox Stamping for anyone above 80 years and below 14 years. You need to meet all of them
- You need to have Visa renewal in same category. Meaning, let’s say you have renewal for H1B, your previous visa in passport should be H1B as well.
- Most recent visa should have been issued in your same country (home country)
- Visa was received after Jan 1, 2008
- Your visa should not have annotations like “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”
- You visa should be issued after 14th birthday
- Your US visa was not lost, stolen or cancelled.
- There were no US visa refusals in any other visa class, since your recent visa issuance
- If applying for H, L or R visa, it should be valid or expired within last 12 months. Also, if it is other classes of visa renewal, it is still same 12 months requirements (should be valid or expired in last 12 months).
- To clarify, 12 months is the normal rule, this is the part that is changing to 24 months with the update
Some general criteria for other visa types, ages
- Blanket L1 holder do not qualify for Dropbox or interview waiver. Only Blanket L2 Spouses are eligible
- If you are applying for F visa, you should be at same school for which your previous visa was issued.
- If applying for J visa, your DS-2019 is also issued by same institution as it is on previous visa.
- Children under 14 years of age are eligible for dropbox
- Adults over 80 years of age are eligible for drop box, if their recent visa application was not refused.
Now that we know the background and eligibility, let’s look at what has changed.
Dropbox Stamping Requirement Extended to 24 months from Expiry
Due to COVID-19, many US Consulates are still functioning with limited appointments and not open for regular visa operations. To help the situation and avoid public risk, Secretary Pompeo after discussions with US Department of State has done some relaxations to the US Visa stamping requirements for Renewals/Dropbox Stamping until March 31, 2021. This was originally given until Dec 31, 2020 and later extended to Mar 31, 2021.
In the past, the requirement was “Your previous visa was in same class and valid or expired within last 12 months” . Now, they have changed that to “Your previous visa was in same class and valid or expired within last 24 months.“
What does it mean? For example, let’s say you had H1B Visa issued from India and you were applying for H1B visa renewal in India on October 1st, 2020. For drop box eligibility, your US visa had to be valid or expired on or after October 1st, 2019. Now, with this change, you can apply for Dropbox Visa stamping, if your visa has expired on or after October 1st, 2018.
Usually, if you are eligible for Dropbox appointment, you would get a confirmation in the online system itself like below to schedule for Dropbox Appointment. So far, we do not have any updates on the US Consulates or US Travel Docs websites yet on how they would handle this. Also, we are not sure how they will handle drop box with Emergency Appointments. We need to wait for their instructions on how the whole thing works.
Latest News – 24 month Dropbox Validity, Timeline
December 29th, 2020 : Today, US Department of Stat issued a press release and update that extended the eligibility of 24 months until March 31st, 2021. They are extending this to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 at consulates. Below is the screenshot of the news update and you can check official news Link on travel.state.gov
August 25th, 2020 : US Department of State gave original guidance today indicating the flexibility in the dropbox eligibity. Below is the screenshot of the news, you can check official news alert from US Department of State
The key criteria is that you need to meet the 24 month criteria on the day of submission of the documents. Even though system may allow you book appointment, you should meet the 24 month requirement on the day of submission. So, technically your Visa should not have expired before March 31, 2019.
No one knows, if it will be extended now. It will depend on the COVID situation, consulates operations situations and the new Biden administration priority on how to handle it. We need to wait for US Dept of State guidance.
No, the system will not let you go for regular visa interview, if you are dropbox eligible. You need to use the dropbox option. This changed with the introduciton of appointments option in India.
No, the process is straightforward, the USTravelDocs system does the eligibility check automatically based on your information. You just need to answer the questions truthfully.
What is the reality of US Visa Stampings ? Emergency Appointments?
Even though US Department of State announced that US Consulates may open from July 15th, 2020, the reality is that many of the consulates are not open for regular operations. Most of them are still operating in limited scope. Check US Visa Consulates Updates COVID – India for complete details on the appointments, US Travel Docs updates.
For instance, in India, US Consulates are currenlty only accepting F, J visa stampings as regular visa appointments and other visa categories are still not available and need to use Emergency Appointment booking. Also, they are not yet open for Dropbox Appointments or processing 221g cases.
Until consulates resume regular visa operations, this relaxation may or may not help. You need to wait for the US Travel Docs and Consulates in the country on how they will handle this new change. Will keep you all posted.
What do you think of the change? Will it help ease the waiting ?
You can connect with others in US Visa Stamping Telegram Group and get help from community.