UPDATE: According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, the Departments of State and Homeland Security will run the pilot program for two years (until January 19, 2014). In addition to China, so far, NAFSA is aware of similar programs launched in Brazil (B, C, F, M), India (B), Russia (B, C), and Norway (B, C, F, J, M, O, Q). Others may be added. Note that each pilot program is different, covering different nonimmigrant categories, and applicants should check the consulate’s Web site for specific details and procedures.
On February 13, 2012, the U.S. State Department launched a new visa pilot program in China that will allow certain visa applicants in the B, C1, D, F, J, M, and O categories whose visas have expired less than 4 years ago (48 months) to renew their visas in the same classification without another interview. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual (9 FAM 41.102 N9.1), F, M, and J visa applicants are eligible for the pilot program provided the applicant is renewing his or her visa to continue participation in the same program or attendance at the same institution as with the previous visa. Applicants who qualify for an interview waiver under the new guidelines can follow existing procedures to renew their visas. This program is part of a January 19 Executive Order signed by President Obama detailing several new initiatives designed to boost travel and tourism to the United States, including improved visa processing.
In a statement delivered by Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, in addition to the pilot program, several other initiatives will be launched by Mission China to improve visa processing, such as adding 50 new consular officers and reopening a consular facility to increase visa interview capacity in Beijing by 50%.
NAFSA has long advocated for revising the policy on interviews for visa applicants, particularly for frequent travelers and those seeking visa renewals; the China pilot program is a good step in this direction, especially as the visa validity period for students and scholars from China is brief (12 months). According to State, other posts will launch the pilot program, as appropriate. NAFSA will monitor the program’s progress and continue to press for further policy improvements.