In December 2021, the U.S. Department of State extended and expanded the authority of U.S. embassies and consulates to waive the requirement of an interview as part of the process for applying for nonimmigrant visas. The changes will be in effect through December 31 of this year.

Before the change, individuals applying for nonimmigrant visas had to be interviewed at a U.S. embassy or consulate. However, the operations of U.S. embassies and consulates were curtailed as a result of COVID-19, including their capacity to process visas. Applicants often waited months for interview appointments and, in some cases, the appointments were cancelled. Allowing waiver of the interviews has been a benefit to visa applicants and is believed to be significantly speeding the process.

No embassy or consulate is required to waive the interview requirement but instead must decide, based on its needs and resources, whether to do so. As a result, individuals applying for nonimmigrant visas should contact their particular embassies or consulates to determine whether the interview requirement is being waived.

Summary of the changes

Here are the details about the changes to the process:

Applicants renewing visas that have expired. Previously, interviews could be waived for nonimmigrant visa applicants who were renewing a visa that was still valid or had expired within the last 12 months. Now, the expiration period of 12 months has been extended to 48 months, and this change will be in effect indefinitely. The change is limited to applicants renewing a visa in the same visa classification, but it appears to apply to all nonimmigrant visa categories, including renewals for B-1 (Business) or B-2 (Visitor) visas. This change also applies to H-2 applicants (agricultural and non-agricultural workers).

Waivers for those applying for employer-petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas, and H-4 spouses and dependents of H visa holders. Applicants in these categories are eligible for waiver of the interview only under the following conditions:

 • They must apply for the visa in their country of nationality or residence.

• They must have never been refused a visa unless the refusal was overcome or waived.

• They must not appear to be ineligible, or potentially ineligible, for a visa.

First-time applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program can also be eligible for waiver of the interview requirement under the following conditions:

• They are not apparently or potentially ineligible for a visa.

• They “have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).”

(First-time applicants will probably be required to apply for a visa in their countries of nationality or residence, although that is not certain based on the language of the policy).

Waivers for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). Applicants in these categories are eligible for waivers under the following conditions:

• They must have previously been issued a visa (any type).

• They must apply for the visa in their country of nationality or residence.

• They must have never been refused a visa unless the refusal was overcome or waived.

• They must not appear to be ineligible, or potentially ineligible, for a visa.

• If they are eligible because their country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, they “must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA to qualify.”

Conclusion

The interview waiver policy is an important part of the State Department’s efforts to deal with a cause of delay in the visa application process. Again, applicants must check with the applicable U.S. embassy or consulate to see whether and to what extent the new waiver policy has been implemented.