US Visa Stamping at Consulates usually involves in-person interviews, unless you qualify for the Interview Waiver Eligibility, which is popularly called a Dropbox Visa Appointment. In many cases, US Visa Dropbox Appointment is a must, if you are eligible for it.
In light of COVID and the safety of everyone, the US Department of State has announced a small change in eligibility criteria for interview waiver or Dropbox stamping, which will help many more applicants utilize the same. We will cover that details in this article.
As a background, let’s quickly review the US Visa Dropbox process.
Background: US Visa Stamping – In-Person Interview vs. Dropbox
In general, when you are applying for a new US Visa, as part of the process to apply for US Visa, you would give biometrics and then attend an in-person visa interview. But, for renewing your existing US Visa, if you meet certain criteria, then you do not have to appear for an in-person interview. You can submit your visa-related documents at Visa Application Center(VAC) and your US visa may be issued without an interview. It is called a Visa Interview Waiver or Dropbox Visa Stamping.
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
General Visa Interview Waiver or Dropbox Stamping Eligibility Criteria
- You need to have a Visa renewal in the same category. Meaning, let’s say you have a renewal for H1B, then your previous visa in your passport should be H1B as well.
- The most recent visa should have been issued in your same country (home country).
- The same country requirement was removed in mid-2021.
- Visa was received after Jan 1, 2008
- Your visa should not have annotations like “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”
- Your visa should be issued after your 14th birthday
- Your US visa was not lost, stolen, or canceled.
- 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 the last 12 months. Also, if it is other classes of visa renewal, it is still the same 12 months requirements (should be valid or expired in the last 12 months).
- To clarify, 12 months is the normal rule, this is the part that is changing to 48 months with the update
Some general criteria for other visa types, ages
- Blanket L1 holders do not qualify for Dropbox or interview waiver. Only Blanket L2 Spouses are eligible
- If you are applying for an F visa, you should be at the same school for which your previous visa was issued.
- If applying for a J visa, your DS-2019 is also issued by the same institution as it is on your previous visa.
- Children under 14 years of age are eligible for dropbox
- Adults over 80 years of age are eligible for dropbox, 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 48 months from Expiry
Due to COVID-19, many US Consulates are still functioning with limited appointments and are not open at full capacity for regular visa-issuing operations.
- To help the situation and avoid public risk, back in 2020 US Department of State increased the 12 months from expiry to 24 months from the expiry of the previous visa for US visa renewals using dropbox or the interview waiver option until March 31, 2021.
- On March 11th, 2021, the US Department of State released a press note indicating the expansion of dropbox visa stamping eligibility from 24 months from visa expiry to 48 months from expiry until Dec 31, 2021.
- Again, on December 23rd, 2021, they extended the 48 months eligibility rule indefinitely. See the below screenshot on the same. Check Official news at State.gov
How does the 48 months from Expiry Dropbox Visa Stamping Work?
In the past, the requirement was “Your previous visa was in the same class and valid or expired within the last 12 months“. Now, they have changed that to “Did your previous [Visa Cateory] visa expire within the last 48 months.“
Example: Let’s say you had B1/B2 Visa stamping previously done in one of the US Consulates in India. Now, you are applying for B1/B2 visa renewal in India on November 1st, 2022. For general dropbox eligibility, your US visa had to be valid or expired on or after November 1st, 2021. Now, with this 48-month eligibility change, you can apply for Dropbox Visa stamping, if your visa has expired on or after November 1st, 2018. You have basically 4 years from the date of expiry to apply for Visa Renewal using Dropbox now.
Usually, if you are eligible for a Dropbox appointment, you would get a confirmation in the online system after you complete the questionnaire.
Dropbox Appointment with ’48 months from expiry’ Question in Online System
As you go through the questionnaire on CGI Federal website, you would get a question that looks like in the below screenshot and reads as below:
“Did your previous B-1/B-2 visa expire within the last 48 months? Note: Please be sure to select an interview waiver submission date at least 7 calendar days before your visa has been expired 48 months.”
Dropbox Eligibility Confirmation Screen in Online System
Below is the screenshot of the confirmation you would get on the USTravelDocs CGI Federal Website, if you qualify for the Interview Waiver or Dropbox option for US Visa Renewal. You can continue with Dropbox by selecting the ‘Drop-off’ button. (The confirmation screen changed in October 2022 to facilitate an emergency appointment option for Dropbox Applicants)
When should you book Dropbox Appointment with ’48 month from expiry’ option?
As per the US Department of State and USTravelDocs.com website guidance, the question reads that “you need to select an interview waiver or dropbox submission date at dropbox location (VAC Center) at least 7 calendar days before your US Visa has been expired 48 months”. In short, you need to submit it 7 days before your visa’s 48 months from expiry deadline.
Example: let’s say your eligibility of 48 months from expiry is ending on June 30th, 2023, then you need to submit documents 7 days before June 30th. So, you should submit your documents before June 23rd, 2023. If you want to be safe, submit it a couple more days before.
In-Peron Interview Waived for certain F, H1B, H4, and Others
In addition to the dropbox option for anyone renewing their US Visa within 48 months from the expiration, the US Dept of State also provided additional guidance, where in-person interview requirements can be waived for certain visa applicants if they meet certain conditions.
This new waiver for an in-person interview is applicable to anyone, who was previously issued any type of US Visa and applying for F, H1B, H4, H3, L1 ( non-blanket), L2, M, O, P, Q, and academic J visas. Read Guide to US Visa Interview Waiver for certain H1B, L1, H4, others
If you meet the above requirement, then you will not see the question “Did your previous H-1B ( temporary occupation, temporary worker, or trainee) expire within the last 48 months?“, so do not be confused. You would see a question that looks like below and then you will be prompted for other questions and then you would get a confirmation for an interview waiver. It is normal to work like that.
Latest News – 48 month Dropbox Validity, Timeline
October 2022: As of end of October 2022, all the above continue to be working well and many are given dropbox appointments as indicated by the US Dept of State. No issues are reported.
December 23rd, 2021: US Department of State extended the 48-month rule for dropbox indefinitely. It was supposed to end on December 31, 2021. Check Official news at State.gov
Mid Year, 2021 : The requirement to have the previous visa stamping in the same country was removed. The USTravelDocs website questionnaire does not show the same country questions anymore.
March 16th, 2021 : USTravelDocs CGI Federal website that is used for Appointment booking for US Visa is updated with the 48 from expiry change. See above article for the details.
March 11th, 2021 : US Department of State made an announcement expanding the 24 month from expiry eligibility to 48 months from expiry. Also, they are extending the interview waiver or Dropbox eligibility with the 48 months until December 31st, 2021. See below screenshot of the Official Press release on Travel.State.Gov
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 criterion is that you need to meet the 48-month criteria on the day of submission of the documents. Even though the system may allow you book an appointment, you should meet the 48-month requirement on the day of submission.
Yes, it was extended indefinitely on December 23rd, 2021. There is no end date for now on when this will expire. Unless something changes, it will be effective even after December 31, 2022.
In general, you should not pick a regular visa appointment, if you are eligible for dropbox. The only exception is if you want to apply for an Emergency Appointment. If you want to apply for an emergency appointment, then choose the interview option on the confirmation screen and then book both Biometrics and interview appointments. Later you book the emergency appointments. You may also read US Visa Stamping Dropbox Appointment mandatory, if eligible
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 Stamping Appointments? Emergency Appointments?
US Consulates across the globe continue to experience very high demand due to lack of staffing and the local COVID situation. It is starting to ease as of October 2022. But, it is not all like before and many consulates are not yet fully open for regular operations.
For instance, as of October 2022, Indian Consulates are not yet open for regular operations. They are processing some in-person appointments only. Most of them they process are dropbox appointments, emergency appointments, and only limited in-person appointments. Check US Visa Consulates Updates COVID – India for complete details on the appointments, USTravelDocs updates.
You can connect with others in the US Visa Stamping Telegram Group and get help from the community or be part of the US Visa Stamping Experiences Group (only repository of experiences, no messaging option)
What do you think of the change to 48 months? How is it helping you?