US Department of State made a significant announcement in late December 2021 that eases many of the Visa stamping issues for many non-immigrant visa holders. They announced that they are expanding interview waivers for many visa types if applicants meet certain conditions starting from January 1st, 2022. Also, they extended the 48 months US Visa dropbox eligibility rule as well. This article covers all the details related to the same.
Background – US Consulates Limited Operations, Visa Slots Issues
US Consulates have been operating with very limited capacity since early 2020 due to the COVID Pandemic. The situation of US Visa slots availability has been limited globally and many are scrambling for visa slots. US Consulates Visa Slots Situation in India is even worse due to the high demand and many are bending the rules by paying agents for slots.
Firstly, US Consulates are not able to open appointments for in-person visa stamping for many applicants due to the social distancing requirements for applicants due to COVID. Secondly, the Consulates said that their offices are not set up for social distancing, so can’t open more slots or increase capacity by adding more officers. Thirdly, US consulates staff are not fully available due to the pandemic situation with travel restrictions. Finally, the local conditions in many countries are unpredictable with lockdowns, restrictions with the new Omicron variant scare of highly transmittable nature.
Considering all the above, including the contributions of non-immigrant work visa holders, the US Department of State has made a significant decision to waive in-person visa interviews for certain types of temporary work visa holders, students, and a few other visa types. In addition, they are extending the 48-month dropbox stamping for renewals as well.
Now that you have the background, let’s dive into the details on what was the announcement and how it would work. We have divided the announcement details into sections for easy review.
US Visa Interview Waived for certain H1B, H4, L1, Other Work Visas
US Dept of State after working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has given the authority to US Consular Officers to waive in-person visa interviews for certain temporary work visa applicants if they meet certain criteria as listed below.
Temporary Work Visa Types that are eligible for In-Person Interview Waiver
Below are the visa types that are eligible for in-person interview waiver, if they meet requirements in the next section:
- H1B Visa, H1B1 Visa
- H4 Visa
- H3 Visa
- Non-blanket L Visas ( L1A, L1B, L2)
- O Visas ( O-1, O-2)
- P Visas (P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S)
- Q Visas ( Q-1)
Requirements for In-Person Interview Waiver
You need to meet all of the below 4 conditions to be able to be considered for an in-person interview waiver. It is up to the discretion of the Consular Officer to give you an interview waiver, just meeting the below conditions does not guarantee an in-person interview waiver.
- You need to have a petition approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS). Basically, this is something that your employer would apply with USCIS for working in US before you go for stamping and it is mandatory for stamping.
- You need to be applying for Visa Stamping in your country of Nationality or Residence. For example, if you are Indian citizen, you can only apply in India or alernatively, if you are India citizen but live in Germany due to work with proper work visa, then you can apply in Germany as it is your place of residence.
- You need to have any type of US Visa issued in the past. It does not have to be in the same category. For example, let’s say you are applying for H1B Visa, but you previously had B1/B2 issued, then you are eligible.
- You should have never been refused a US Visa at Visa Stamping. If you had an administrative processing refusal like 221g, then it should have been overcome or waived. You should have not any potential ineligibility aspects on your application (this is not clearly defined by them on what they mean)
Requirements for Interview Waiver for VWP Country Citizens
If you are a citizen of a country that is participating in the Visa Waiver Program(VWP), then you need to meet the below conditions. You are eligible for an interview waiver, even if it is your first-time visa stamping based on a first-time petition filed by an employer in the US if you meet the below conditions.
- You must of citizen of VWP designated country as per US Dept of State
- You must have previously traveled to the US using Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before.
- There are no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligiblity aspects on the application ( This is not clearly defined by them)
How long is the above interviw waiver eligible for Work Visa holders ?
The above interview waiver for the temporary work visa holder is until the end of 2022. It means that it will be until December 31st, 2022.
Interview Waivers for certain F, M, J visa Applicants
US Dept of State is extending the previously approved policy to waive the visa interview for certain students, professors, research scholars, other specialists who apply for F (F1, F2), M, and academic J visas if they meet all of the below criteria:
- They must be applying for the US visa in their consular district of residence. Basically where they live.
- They must have a previously issued US visa of any type. It means, any type of successful US visa stamping like B1/B2 or others in the past.
- They must never had any US Visa refusals in the past. If had 221g administrative processing, they should have been resolved and got Visa stamping done.
- Also they do not have any apparent ineligiblity or potential in-eligiblity on their application ( this is not fully clear what they mean)
These details were issued earlier this year 2021 and are not available on the US Dept of State website now. You can check the below screenshot or Archive.org for the actual info
Interview Waivers for certain F, M, J visa Applicants from VWP Countries
If you are part of the Visa Waiver Program countries, you need to meet the below conditions. There is one change from the previous announcements, which is also updated in the below conditions. You can be a first-time visa stamping applicant as well.
- You must be a citizen of VWP designated country as per US Dept of State.
- You need to apply for the US visa in your country of residence or nationality ( VWP country)
- You must have previously traveled to the US using Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before. This is the new change that is added.
- There are no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligiblity aspects on the applicant for visa issuance. ( This is not clearly defined by them).
Again, even if you meet all the above, it is up to the discretion of the Consular Officer to give you an interview waiver, just meeting the above does not guarantee an interview waiver.
How does Interview Waiver Work in CGI Federal System ?
On Jan 1, 2022, USTravelDocs / CGI Federal Website, which is used to book the US visa appointments, got updated with the new Interview Waiver exception that was announced by the US Dept of State on Dec 23rd, 2021. Below is how it works in the CGI Federal website booking system.
They added two new questions and re-used previous general interview waiver/dropbox questions to make this new interview waiver rule work. Below are the questions and confirmation.
New Question : Do you have previous visa in any class issued ?
You will see a new question in the beginning that asks every applicant “Do you have previous visa in any visa class issued ?” as in the below screenshot. If you answer yes to this question, then you will get subsequent typical dropbox questions asking about annotations like “Clearance Received or Department Authorization”, and other questions.
New Question : Have you ever been refused a Visa before ?
Also, you will see a new question at the last that asks “Have you ever been refused a visa before?” as in the below screenshot. This is a key question that will be considered for the new interview waiver rule.
Interview Waiver Confirmation
If you answer “Yes” to the first new question that asks about if you ever got a US Visa and “No” to the second new question that asks about your previous US visa refusal, and if you meet the general dropbox requirements ( check H1B Dropbox Complete Guide for the questions ), then you will get a confirmation that says you are eligible for interview waiver. The confirmation screen looks like in the below screenshot. It is similar to general dropbox confirmation.
US Visa Renewals using Dropbox – 48 Months Rule
US Dept of State has extended the 48-month US Visa Renewal rule using the Dropbox option indefinitely. Meaning, there is no deadline as such when this will end. This was supposed to end on December 31, 2021. See below screenshot confirming the same. You can read complete details on how the 48-month rule works at Guide to 48 Month Dropbox Stamping Rule.
You may also check Step by Step Guide to H1B Dropbox Stamping
Also, US Consulates have extended the H2 Visa (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers) interview waiver rule until the end of 2022 ( December 31st, 2022)
Latest News Updates : New Interview Waiver Implementation, Slots
Jan, Feb, March 2022: The US Consulates continue to provide interview waiver option for certain visa holders as listed above. There are no issues reported as such by our user community.
January 1st, 2022: Today, US Dept of State rolled out the new Interview Waiver rule that was announced on Dec 23rd, 2021 that waives in-person interview for many who meet the requirements as mentioned in above article. We have added a new section in the above article that shows the new questions and how the system works.
December 28th, 2021: Below are the latest update on the implementation of the new interview waiver rule :
- US Consulates in India annouced that they will be releasing 20,000 Interview Waiver Slots to cater to the new interview waiver option announced by US Dept. See below screenshot from US Embassy website.
- There is no info on when these 20,000 slots would be released.
- There is no official update from US Consulates or Embassies on how this would be implement yet . Also, no update from the community as well.
December 23rd, 2021: This is up to the US Consulates and Embassies on how they will implement this new interview waiver rule. In the past, when we had the 48-month dropbox rule that was announced, it took about a week for the USTravelDocs ( CGI Federal System) to be updated to reflect the announcement. As of now, all we can do is wait for the US Consulates or CGI Federal updates.
We do not know the exact date on when they would implement this new interview waiver rule as well. We will update this page with details as we have more information.
Overall, it is a good move by the US Dept of State to reduce visa slots issue for fresh visa applicants. It may or may not help everyone, but does make the situation better for a few of them, who are eligible. I wish, they did this for everyone to avoid the visa slots issues.
We have worked with VisaGrader.com website team and built a US Visa Slots Tracker by Country for the community to have visibility on slots and when they will open. If you are checking for slots, do add slots availability for community benefit.
What do you think of the announcement on interview waivers for certain visa holders? Share your thoughts in comments below.
Reference : Official News on US Dept of State