Tag Archives: interview waiver

Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

On December 23, 2021, the Department of State announced that consular officers would be able to waive the in-person interview requirements for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants with approved petitions with USCIS. This potential waiver applies to individuals applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who meet certain conditions. The following conditions apply:

  • The individual must be applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.
  • They must have been previously issued any type of visa.
  • The individual must have never been refused a visa, unless the refusal was overcome or waived.
  • They must have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility (criminal charges, citations, overstays, etc.)

First-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) provided they have “no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)” may also be eligible for an interview waiver.

The Secretary of State also extended previous interview waiver policies for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). One change to the previous policy is that applicants eligible for the waiver authority because they are citizens or nationals of a VWP participating country must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA to qualify.  Applicants must apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence. 

The interview waiver of certain H-2 (A and B) applicants has also been extended through the end of 2022. Applicants renewing any visa within 48 months are eligible for an interview waiver. However, the Department of State notes that it is up to the consular officers’ discretion and applicants could still be required to attend an in-person interview.

Visa Appointments Are Still Limited: India Update

The DOS notes that you should check with your local consular posts for details on interview waiver appointments. There are still backlogs at most posts given the COVID-19 backlogs, limited operating conditions, and staffing challenges.

The visa services division in India has announced additional appointments are to be released:

In the coming days, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India will release more than 20,000 additional interview waiver (dropbox) appointments for Spring 2022 to allow qualified applicants to make use of the new interview waiver authority. Due to reduced staffing and numerous pandemic-related disruptions to our operations since March 2020, appointment demand is high across all visa categories and wait times may be lengthy for most routine nonimmigrant visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

As a reminder, all travelers must abide by vaccination and testing requirements set forth by the CDC, DHS, DOS, and the airlines.

Additional Resources

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India Travel Restrictions & Resources

Restrictions on Travel From India

Effective May 4, 2021, India was added to a list of countries with restrictions on entry to the United States. Other countries with restrictions include Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland), United Kingdom, and South Africa. Certain travelers physically present in these countries during the 14 days prior to their planned or attempted U.S. entry, are restricted from entering the U.S. The proclamation notes that India accounts for over one-third of new global cases and a variant strain is circulating throughout the country. The proclamation also stated that the CDC determined the variants have “characteristics of concern, which may make them more easily transmitted and have the potential for reduced protection afforded by some vaccines.”

Exceptions

Immigrants, U.S. citizens, and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are not subject to the India travel ban proclamation. Other exceptions include:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents
  • Parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (if the child is unmarried and under the age of 21)
  • Siblings of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident (if they are both unmarried and under the age of 21)
  • Children, foster children, or wards of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents
  • Prospective adoptees seeking to enter U.S. under IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications
  • C-1, D, C-D crewmembers as air or sea crew
  • Noncitizens traveling at the invitation of the U.S. government related to the containment or mitigation of the virus
  • Members of U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children
  • A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), E-1 (as an employee of TECRO or TECO or the employee’s immediate family members), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 (or seeking to enter as a nonimmigrant in one of those NATO categories) or whose travel falls within the scope of section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement

National Interest Exceptions

The proclamation also gives authority to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees to determine categories of noncitizens

  • Immigrants (not applicable to the restrictions under Proclamation 10199, which only covers nonimmigrant travel)
  • Fiancé(e)s
  • Students and certain academics covered by exchange visitor programs. Students subject to these geographic COVID proclamations due to their presence in India, China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa may qualify for a National Interest Exception only if their academic program, including optional practical training (OPT), begins August 1, 2021, or later. Students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program, including OPT, beginning August 1, 2021, or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel.
  • Travelers who are seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure sectors or directly linked supply chains.
  • Journalists
  • Pilots and aircrew traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance, including individuals who are traveling to the United States on B-1/B-2, B-1, or M-1 visas, or Visa Waiver Program authorizations. This also includes certain M-2 dependents when the principal visa holder’s necessary training is four weeks or longer
  • Certain exchange visitors, including some au pairs, specialized teachers, travel in support of critical foreign policy objectives, etc.
  • Derivative family members accompanying or following to join a noncitizen who has been granted, would be reasonably expected to receive an NIE, or is otherwise not subject to the proclamations and who is engaging in certain types of long-term employment, studies, or research lasting four weeks or more
  • Travelers seeking to enter the U.S. for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.

International Travel Tips

The Department of State advises “Travelers in these categories who wish to visit the United States and have a valid visa in the appropriate class, or who are seeking to apply for a visa, and believe they may qualify for a national interest exception should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling.” The DOS website also notes that the Secretary of State may revise the national interest determinations at any time.

  1. Limit nonessential international travel and consider postponing essential travel. 
  2. If you absolutely must travel, check COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements for each country on your itinerary. The U.S. requires a negative COVID-19 test within the 3 days prior to their inbound flight, but many countries require mandatory quarantines or prohibit entry if you have traveled through certain countries with restrictions.
  3. Check appointment availability and/or schedule your visa stamping appointment prior to departure. You should also consider the conditions where you are traveling. Some consulates and embassies can close or cancel appointments with no advance notice.
  4. Prepare for extended leave from the United States. Closures, additional travel restrictions, or lack of visa appointments could delay your return to the U.S. When you depart, consider that you could be stranded abroad for several months if conditions are unfavorable.
  5. Check the U.S. Embassy website for the latest COVID-19 information in India.

Many consulates are reporting no appointments available before October or November of this year. Some individuals whose appointments were scheduled for this spring now have additional scheduling delays of several months. If your request for an emergency appointment is rejected, you cannot attempt the request again, so be sure that the evidence you provide fully demonstrates your eligibility.

Already Have a Valid Visa? 

The travel ban is a suspension of entry if you have been physically present in one of the affected countries in the past 14 days. If you have a valid visa and the ability to travel to a country not on the list and quarantine for 14 days, you would still be able to enter the U.S. on your valid visa. You would still have to comply with any local restrictions in the third country, as well as COVID-19 testing requirements for U.S. entry, so be sure to check that testing is widely available in the third country. You should also maintain careful records of your flights and accommodations to demonstrate you have not been in the affected countries in the 14 days prior to your entry or attempted entry into the U.S.

Don’t Have a Valid Visa and Need Visa Stamping?

Most consular posts have explicitly stated that visas will not be issued and/or appointments will not be scheduled unless the applicant also qualifies for a National Interest Exception. Each post has a different process for obtaining approval for the NIE, so check the consulate’s website to confirm the latest procedures. Since regular appointments are not readily available, you may also be required to prove your eligibility for an emergency appointment. If you qualify for a drop box appointment, you must still provide evidence of your NIE eligibility.

Related Topics & Resources:

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Interview Waiver Checklist: Are you eligible for a Drop Box appointment?

Are you eligible for a Drop Box appointment?

If you can answer “yes” to the below questions, you may qualify for an Interview Waiver. If eligible for the waiver, you must still fill out your DS-160 online and then schedule a Drop Box appointment at a Visa Application Center to drop off the required documentation. (The process varies by consular post, so please follow the directions provided to you during the scheduling process.)

Do I qualify for the interview waiver program (IWP) or a “drop box” appointment?

Individuals may be able to renew their visas without an interview if they are reapplying for the same visa class that they previously held. Typically, interviews can be waived for individuals who are renewing unexpired visas or visas that expired less than one year ago. A recent Department of State announcement expanded that time frame to visas that have expired within a 48-month period, effective until December 31, 2021.

Eligibility Criteria for Applicants (Same Visa Class)
(Except children under 14 years of age and applicants 80 years of age or older)

☐ I was previously issued a visa in the same visa classification
☐ My prior visa (in the same class) is still valid or expired within the last 48 months (temporary extension – typically 12 months)
☐ My most recent visa was issued in the same country
☐ I received my visa after January 1, 2008 and was 14 years old or older when I applied for that visa
☐ My prior visa is not annotated “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”
☐ My prior visa (in the same class) was issued on or after my 14th birthday
☐ My prior visa (in the same class) was not lost/stolen or cancelled
☐ I have no refusals for a visa in any class after my most recent visa issuance
☐ If yes, then the refusals need to be identified on the DS-160
☐ I have not been arrested or convicted of any crime
☐ I have not stayed in the U.S. longer than 6 months on a B-1/B-2 visa
☐ If applying for an F visa, I am continuing as a student at the same school for which my previous visa was issued
☐ If I am applying for a J visa, my current DS-2019 is issued by the same institution as the institution listed on my previous visa

Note: Blanket L1 visa applicants do not qualify for the Interview Waiver, but Blanket L2 spouses are eligible

GEOGRAPHICAL TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Please note that you must also qualify for a National Interest Exception if traveling from a country affected by geographical travel restrictions.

Eligibility criteria for children under 14 years of age:

  • My parents qualify to renew through the interview waiver program
  • I am applying before my 14th birthday

Note: Children under 14 must submit copies of both parents’ passports’ biographic information, birth certificate, completed DS-160 confirmation, and valid U.S. visa page.

Eligibility criteria for applicants over 80 years of age:

  • I am applying on or after 80th birthday
  • My most recent visa application was not refused

Booking an Appointment

You must first create a profile, then proceed with completing your application. Pay the visa application fee and print one copy of the submission confirmation page.

LOG IN

Schedule a drop box appointment online for the earliest available date. Drop off your passport and the documents listed on the submission confirmation at one of the CGI Service Centers.

INDIA SERVICE CENTERS

Additional Resources


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Contact us at info@challalaw.com or 804-360-8482 to get your case started today.