The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in profound reductions in the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) visa processing capacity. Consequently, the DOS in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on December 31, 2021 that consular officers had been granted the discretionary power to temporarily waive in-person interview requirements for certain nonimmigrant visas until December 31, 2022

New Authorization for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P and Q visas

This new authorization applies to temporary workers applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P and Q visas who:

  1. have a petition approved by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS);
  2. apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence;
  3. have been previously issued any type of visa;
  4. have never been refused a visa, unless the refusal was reversed or waived; and
  5. have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.

The waiver is also available to first time visa applicants who are citizens of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have previously visited the U.S. via Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA).

Extended Authorisation for F, M, and academic J visa

Similarly, the DOS extended a previous policy to waive visa interviews requirements for students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants) until the end of 2022. This extended authorization applies to applicants who:

  1. apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence;
  2. have been previously issued any type of visa ;
  3. have never been refused a visa, unless the refusal was reversed or waived; and
  4. have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.

First-time applicants for F, M, and academic J visa who are citizens or nationals of a VWP country are eligible for the interview waiver provided they have previously traveled to the United States via ESTA authorization and have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.

Extended Authorisation for H-2 visa

The previous authority allowing for the waiver of interviews of certain H-2 (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers) applicants has also been extended through the end of 2022.

Visa Renewals 

Applicants renewing any visa within 48 months of expiration are also eligible for interview waiver.

It is important to note that U.S. Embassies and consulates may still require an in-person interview on a case-by-case basis and dependent upon local conditions. Consular resources and local government restrictions vary widely, and each consular section will continuously review its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during the pandemic and address its priorities.

How does this announcement affect Canadians?

Canadian citizens do not need to apply for visas to work in the United States, and therefore this announcement does not affect them directly. However, permanent residents of Canada and temporary foreign workers currently working in Canada, who have applied or plan to apply for any of the above-mentioned visas may have their in-person interview waived, resulting in faster issuance of their visas and permitting them to enter the U.S. sooner than otherwise would have been possible.

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