In general, you need to apply for Biometrics & US Visa Interview appointments if you need to get a US visa stamping on your passport. But, if you are applying for US Visa renewal, there is no need for biometrics and you only submit documents. In the past, before September 2019, you could walk into any US Visa Application Center(VAC) without any appointment and submit your documents. This changed starting in September 2019.
Starting in Sep 2019, US Consulates in India introduced appointments for US Visa stampings using the Interview Waiver option, popularly called Dropbox. In this article, we will look at the US Visa Dropbox or Interview Waiver process in India, what it means to anyone going for US Visa stamping, and FAQs.
US Visa Stamping with Renewal, aka Dropbox – Appointments
Starting from September 1st, 2019, if you are eligible for US Visa Interview Waiver, aka Dropbox option, you must schedule an appointment date to drop off your passport and all the supporting US visa application documents. This appointment booking applies to all dropbox/ interview waiver applicants filing for their US Visa renewal or stamping in India.
Below are the three biggest changes since the introduction of the appointments for Dropbox:
- Dropbox Submission Mandatory: In the past (before Sep 2019), for US Visa renewals, you had the option to go for dropbox, but it was not mandatory. It was your choice to pick Dropbox or an in-person appointment. But, starting from Sep 1st, 2019, it is mandatory for you to go for the dropbox option, if you qualify for the interview waiver option based on the questions answered on the USTravelDocs Portal website. Only exception is, if you have an emergency or compelling circumstance and you want to get an expedited appointment.
- Dropbox Appointment Mandatory: In the past(before September 2019), no appointment was required with Visa Application Center(VAC) to drop off documents. But starting in September 2019, you must schedule an appointment beforehand to drop off your documents for Dropbox stamping.
- Faster Processing Time: In the past, the average processing time for an interview waiver or Dropbox was about 3 weeks, and there was no SLA. From September 1st, 2019, the dropbox applicant will get a decision on their case within 7 to 10 business days from the day they submitted their documents.
Official Guidance – USTravelDocs Website
As per the official guidance from the USTravelDocs.com India website for renewing a US visa, they clearly say that “starting September 1st, eligible applicants MUST schedule an appointment in order to drop off their passports…“. September 1st in the below screenshot corresponds to September 1st, 2019.
Dropbox Eligibility Requirements
The criteria for the US visa interview waiver or dropbox option have not changed with the introduction of appointment booking. All documents required have not changed. You are still required to submit all the required documents as before.
In general, to apply for dropbox, your visa has to be valid or expired within the last 12 months. But, due to COVID-19, the US Dept of State has increased the 12 months from expiry to 48 months from expiry. Also, some may also be eligible for dropbox stamping, even if it is past 48 months if they meet certain criteria until the end of 2022.
You can read more at US Visa Dropbox Changed to 48 Months – FAQs and US Visa Interview waived for certain H1B, L1, and other Visa holders until the end of 2022
Process for General Dropbox appointment Booking India
The standard process to book an in-person US Visa interview appointment is to go to CGI Federal’s website to register for an account and then schedule a general US visa interview appointment. The process is no different for booking Dropbox Appointments as well. You need to follow the same process as in-person appointment booking. Below are the steps
- Step 1 – Register Account: You need to register an account at CGI Federal – US Travel Docs India
- Step 2 – Complete Questionnaire Wizard: The CGI Federal appointment booking system will give you a step-by-step wizard asking a set of questions. Based on the answers you provide, your dropbox eligibility is determined.
- Step 3 – Confirmation for Dropbox Appointment: If you are eligible based on the answers you provide, the system will automatically give you a confirmation saying you qualify for an interview waiver or dropbox. Below is a screenshot of how it looks.
- Step 4 – Book Appointment: After the confirmation screen, you will be prompted to put in the MRV fee payment receipt details and then prompt to book the appointment date to drop off documents.
Note: In the past, there was a restriction on where you can submit documents for dropbox visa stamping. As of now, in 2023, that restriction is not there anymore. Irrespective of the US Consulate you select, now you can submit your documents at any location. There is a small fee that you may need to pay if you are submitting at non-Consulate locations. You can read more at Drop off documents at any Location in India Below is the difference on how it used to look.
If you are looking for H1B Visa specific dropbox process, you can check out Step by Step Guide for H1B Visa Dropbox Appointment Booking – India
Do you need Biometrics (OFC) Appointment for Dropbox?
In general, there is no requirement for giving Biometrics at Offsite Facilitation Center(OFC) or Visa Application Center(VAC), when you book a US Visa stamping appointment using the Dropbox or Interview waiver option. But, when you try to book the appointment, the online system shows “Schedule OFC Appointment” as in the below screenshot, which can be confusing as the same message is shown for a Biometrics appointment as well.
The text “Schedule OFC appointment” on the appointment booking screen can be confusing, but they have a reason. Technically, ‘OFC’ Stands for ‘Offsite Facilitation Center’ and the Visa appointment system is asking you to book an appointment to drop off your US Visa documents at an Offsite Facilitation Center(OFC). So, do not be confused with the text with OFC on the top.
Also, do not be confused if you see ‘VAC’ instead of ‘IW’ in the dropdown on the same screen.
In the past, before Nov 28, 2021, the last 3 letters in the dropdown used to say ‘IW’, which meant ‘Interview Waiver’ and it was easy to identify the dropbox appointment. This changed to VAC starting from Nov 28th, 2021. Do not be confused. It still means dropbox appointment booking, if you were given the dropbox confirmation screen. Read complete details at US Visa Appointment Dropbox Booking shows VAC instead of IW
US Visa types Eligible for Dropbox Appointment – H4, H1B, Others
The appointment requirement for US Visa Dropbox applications applies to all of the US visa types that are currently eligible for interview waiver or dropbox. Below are some of the most common visa types that are relevant for our readers.
- H1B, L1 Visa: If you are an H1B or L1 visa holder applying for visa renewal, then it applies to you.
- H4 Visa: If you are an H4 Visa holder waiting for approval with Biometrics and traveling out for stamping, then it applies to you.
- F1 Visa: F1 visa holders going for visa renewal, who are studying in the same school for which the visa was issued in the past
- B1/B2 Visa: It applies to B1/B2 visa renewals done using the Dropbox option.
- In addition to the above, there are many other visa types that are eligible for interview waiver or dropbox as well. Check the USTravelDocs website for the same.
Below are some of the Dropbox Visa Stamping Experiences articles and links
- Latest 250+ US Visa Stamping User Experiences: H1B, H4 for the Year 2022
- H4 Dropbox Experience using Dropbox Appointment Process
- H1B Dropbox Appointment Stamping – 221g Green Slip Experience Mumbai
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions(FAQs) in the context of dropbox appointments.
Yes, you can schedule the appointment from the US or anywhere in the world, before you arrive in India. You do not have to be physically in India to book the dropbox appointment.
You will very likely get a decision on your visa stamping within 7 to 10 business days from the day you dropped off your documents.
Yes, you can ask someone else like your friend, spouse, or travel agent to submit your visa application documents on your behalf. You need to ensure, that all the documents as per the checklist are in there. Also, submitting parties may need to provide their identity documents as well.
Yes, you can reschedule the appointment. They will mark your receipt as unused after 24 hours and then you can re-schedule to the new date and print a new confirmation letter for the drop off of the documents.
You select the location of drop-off, date, and time for the appointment. You need to go to the Consulate/VAC location at the respective date and time. The confirmation looks like in below screenshot.
Yes, both of you can technically select the same date and drop off documents together. The system will show the date and time slots accordingly.
In the past, you could only submit your visa stamping documents at the specified dropbox location. But, starting from April 4th, 2022, you can submit your documents at any of the US Consulates or VAC locations across India. It will be free of charge for Consulate locations and there is a fee of Rs 650 INR, if you are submitting in other locations. Check US Visa Dropbox: Can drop off documents at any VAC location
No, the applicant needs to be physically present in their home country(India) to submit the visa stamping documents. Only appointment scheduling can be done, when you are in the US.
It is suggested to select a dropbox location to drop off documents at the below centers based on where you plan to give the visa interview. If you were to be called for an interview, you will be called to the respective consulate that is tied to the relevant drop-off location. So, choose this carefully, if you prefer a choice.
Applicants for Delhi Consulate: Drop off at New Delhi, Chandigarh, or Jalandhar centers
Applicants for Mumbai Consulate: Drop off at Mumbai, Ahmedabad, or Pune centers.
Applicants for Chennai Consulate: Drop off at Chennai, Kochi, or Bangalore.
Applicants for Hyderabad Consulate: Drop off at Hyderabad Center.
Applicants for Kolkata Consulate: Drop off at Kolkata Center
The above suggestion is a recommendation, but it is totally up to you to pick the consulate and drop off location. There are no restrictions as such.
No, you cannot change the US Visa interview location. You must attend the visa interview at the location you were asked to attend. It is important to choose your preferred drop-off location tied to the consulate as listed above when you book the appointment.
No, you must appear for the interview. You cannot skip if you were asked to attend the visa interview.
Yes, it is mandatory. You will need to select the appointment date, and location to drop off your documents. It is not optional anymore.
You will be allowed to get the missing documents and submit them on the same day. If you cannot submit as per the checklist, then you cannot submit on that day, you will need to re-schedule your dropbox appointment.
You can check it out at Sample US Visa Dropbox Appointment letter
You may also check the US Visa Dropbox Stamping Experiences page for the most recent user experiences. Also, some from the past are at H1B Dropbox Experiences in India and H4 Dropbox Experience in 2019 to get an idea of how they were processed until Aug 30th, 2019. Below is the document that was released by US Consulates when they introduced Dropbox Stamping with Appointments.
What has been your experience with the dropbox appointments so far ? Your thoughts ?
References: USTravelDocs.com – Visa Waiver Official Page