A much overlooked suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program could create visa processing headaches for companies employing foreign nationals. On March 6, President Trump signed an executive order directing the Secretary of State to suspend the visa Interview Waiver Program (IWP), effective March 16, 2017 (repeating the intent of the President’s much–publicized January 27 order, which had also suspended the IWP). None of the Department of Homeland Security’s 39 FAQs on the March 6 order discuss the IWP suspension. So, what happened; and what are the implications?
Although Section 222 of the Immigration and Nationality Act generally requires an in-person interview by a U.S. consular official for particular nonimmigrant visa applications by foreign nationals between the ages of 14 and 79, certain categories of applicants had been accorded the privilege of skipping this step when applying for a visa at US consulates abroad. The now discontinued IWP is not to be confused with the Visa Waiver Program (allowing certain foreign nationals to enter the United States without a visa), which remains unchanged by these orders and available to the same foreign citizens as before.
In-person interviews are time-consuming and pose scheduling challenges for busy executives; the waiver of the interview was a considerable savings for many companies and individuals. The suspension of the IWP by the President will immediately disrupt some travel schedules, and company executives will now likely need to factor in lengthier in-country stays to process visa extensions.
In the longer run, more interviews mean potentially longer wait times to schedule an interview, an issue the March 6 order acknowledges. That order attempts to address the looming shortage of visa interview staff by directing the Secretary of State to expand its Consular Fellows Program (CFP). However, the expansion of the CFP is “subject to availability of appropriations” and will be of no immediate relief to anyone facing longer wait times and lines at U.S. consulates.
Diplomatic visas are exempted from the IWP suspension; all other visa categories will be immediately affected. It remains to be seen exactly how the State Department will administer this suspension directive; the regulation that the President indicates must be enforced has its own selected waivers available to US consular officials. Until the State Department issues guidance on this subject, all non-diplomatic applicants for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa (or a renewal) should plan and budget for an in-person interview, and be prepared for the associated timing issues and costs.