New Interview Waiver for Certain H-1B, L-1, O-1, and Other Visa Applicants
On December 23, 2021, in consultation with the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Secretary of State authorized
consular offices through December 31, 2022, to waive in-person interview requirements for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who have a petition approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The new authorization applies to H-1B, L-1, and O-1 visa applicants, as well as their dependents, who meet the following requirements. It also applies to the H-3, P, and Q visa categories.
- Approved petition from USCIS (I-797 Approval Notice). As such, L-1 Blanket visa applicants do not qualify.
- Applying in home country (country of nationality or current residence).
- Previously issued any type of US visa, OR is a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), has no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility, and has previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA.
- Never refused a US visa in the past, unless the refusal was overcome or waived and there is no apparent or potential ineligibility.
This is a very positive development and welcomed move by the US Department of State. One of the biggest challenges for US business immigration during the pandemic period has been the long wait times and backlogs for US visa interview appointments at US Consulates in Embassies globally, given that most US visa applications require an in-person visa interview.
With this new interview waiver mechanism, many foreign national employees will be able to obtain their H-1B, L-1, and O-1 visas without needing to schedule (and wait long periods for) a visa interview appointment. Even those who do not meet the requirements, such as L-1 Blanket and E visa applicants, will benefit from these new rules because hopefully appointment wait times will improve dramatically through freeing up so many slots that would otherwise have been taken up by these now interview waived visa applicants.
However, as a reminder, consular operations and the level of visa services offered vary widely among countries and even among individual posts due to the ongoing global pandemic. Checking in with the current services and policies of each post is essential as certain posts may limit the visa categories eligible for interview waivers. The consular post's website
is normally the best source of information regarding these matters.
F, M, and academic J applicants: the Secretary of State has also extended the previously approved policies to waive visa interviews for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants) through December 31, 2022. However, applicants eligible for waiver authority because they are citizens or nationals of a VWP participating country now must have previously traveled to the United States using an ESTA authorization to qualify.
In addition, consular officers have the authority to waive visa interviews for F, M, and academic J visa applicants previously issued any type of visa, provided they have not been refused a visa that was not subsequently overcome or waived, and where there is no apparent or potential ineligibility. First-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens of a VWP participating country and have previously traveled to the United States using ESTA authorization may also have their interview waived provided they have no apparent or potential ineligibility.
H-2 applicants: Previous authority allowing interview waivers for H-2 applicants (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers) has been extended through December 31, 2022.
Visa renewal: The authorization provided to consular officers to waive the in-person interview for applicants renewing a visa in the same visa class within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration has been extended indefinitely. This broad language suggests that interview waivers could be extended even to renewals for B-1/B-2 applicants, many of whom would benefit given lengthy visa appointment wait times at certain posts.
Thank you to the American Immigration Lawyers Association for assistance with this alert summary.
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