Non-Immigrant, Temporary Visa Interviews May Be Waived at U.S. Consulates

  • January 2014
  • Posted By Katie
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In 2012 the Department of State (DOS) initiated a pilot program which waived the interview requirement for certain non-immigrant visas. DOS recently announced that this program will now be permanent so that all U.S. consulates have the authority to waive the interview requirement either on a case-by-case basis or for an entire classification of visas.

To implement this change, DOS has amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) which now sets forth the criteria each U.S. consulate may consider in deciding whether or not to wave the interview in certain situations. However, please note that the only interviews which may be waived are for the renewal of a visa in the same classification as the original visa was issued.

There are a number of requirements which must be met in order to qualify for the waiver. First, the applicant must be applying to renew a visa in the same category. For example, an H-1 employee would not be eligible for an interview waiver if he or she is applying for an E-2 investor visa. The interview waiver would also not be available to an E-2 dependent who is applying for an E-2 principal visa.
The new rules also require the visa application to be submitted within 12 months of the expiration of the previous visa. This apparently applies to all non-immigrant visas and may be very helpful for applicants applying for an H-1 renewal in India or China where there are historically long backlogs for interviews. In addition, the visa interview may also be waived if the application is made within 48 months of the expiration of the previous visa but this longer period of time does not apply to E, H, L, P or R visas. In effect, and as a practical matter, the 48 month exception would primarily apply to B-1 and B-2 visitors and F-1 and J-1 students /scholars.

Although this would appear to be welcome news to those that need to renew visas, it must also be noted that the new rules do not make the visa interview waiver automatic and in fact each U.S. consulate has a tremendous amount of discretion in implementing the new program. For example, some consulates may decide not to waive any interviews at any time whereas other consulates may decide to waive all interviews for certain types of visas such as H or L. Other consulates may decide simply to make the decision on a case-by-case basis which means each applicant would have to assume that they will be required to attend an interview and if the interview is waived it will simply be a pleasant surprise. It is hoped that each consulate will publish its policies on its website and update that information as the policies change. This will provide visa applicants with some basis for planning a trip home (note that the visa interview only applies if the applicant is applying in his or her place of residence in their country of citizenship). We will of course keep you posted as we receive additional information about this potentially useful program.

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