As many of our clients know all too well, during the pandemic it has been extremely difficult to schedule appointments to obtain nonimmigrant visas at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. Reduced staffing and COVID-related restrictions have resulted in long backlogs and ever-increasing appointment wait times, particularly in countries with historically high application rates. 

Most U.S. consular posts have long offered an option for those meeting certain limited criteria to mail their visa applications to the post in lieu of a personal interview. Recently, however, the State Department announced an expansion of its interview waiver criteria through December 31, 2022. The new policy allows consular officers to waive the in-person interview for H-1, H-3, H-4, L (except for Blanket L-1), O, P, & Q visa applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 who meet certain criteria, which may include:

  1. Applicant is applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence;
  2. Applicant was issued a previous U.S. visa in any nonimmigrant class;
  3. The previous visa was not issued before applicant’s 14th birthday, contained no restrictive annotations, and has not been lost, stolen, or canceled; and
  4. Applicant has not been refused a visa in any class since the most recent visa issuance. 

In addition, first-time H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, & Q visa applicants who are citizens of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program and who have previously traveled to the U.S. using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) may also be eligible for an interview waiver.

A similar interview waiver policy already in effect for certain F, M, and academic J visa applicants was extended through December 2022 by the same announcement.  

Specific eligibility criteria and application procedures can vary widely depending on the consular post, so visa applicants are urged to consult the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate for information on a particular location’s policies and procedures. Note that using the interview waiver service does not guarantee visa issuance; consular officers may at any time require a visa applicant to appear for an in-person interview.  

Importantly, in our experience, we have seen most consular Posts turn mail-in visa renewals in 2 weeks or less. However, we cannot ensure a specific time frame and always recommend purchasing flight tickets after visa issuance or with a flexible return. 

If you have any questions concerning your eligibility for a visa interview waiver, please do not hesitate to contact our office.


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