The Department of State (DOS) has instituted a visa interview waiver pilot program (IWPP), described in the Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 41.102 N9, where designated consulates can allow certain visa applicants whose visas have expired less than 4 years ago (48 months) to renew their visas in the same classification without another interview. Outside of the pilot program, consulates can waive the interview requirement under existing procedures that allow waivers only if the applicant's visa has expired less than 12 months ago. Applicants who qualify for an interview waiver under the new guidelines will generally follow existing procedures to renew their visas.
The pilot program authorization runs for two years from January 20, 2012. The program stems out of a January 19, 2012 Executive Order signed by President Obama that encourages initiatives designed to boost travel and tourism to the United States, including improved visa processing.
The visa interview waiver pilot program is gradually being launched only at certain U.S. consulates. According to a joint DHS-DOS progress report, as of August 2012 "consular sections at 52 visa processing posts in 28 countries" participate in the IWPP. At the time of the report, over 80% of IWPP cases were being processed at posts in China and Brazil, but DOS and DHS expect popularity to grow in other countries as the IWPP expands.
The pilot programs at each consulates differ in terms of which nonimmigrant visa categories can participate in the consulate's pilot, and applicants should carefully check the consulate's website for eligibility and filing details.
NAFSA has long advocated for revising the policy on interviews for visa applicants, particularly for frequent travelers and those seeking visa renewals; the interview waiver 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). NAFSA will monitor the program’s progress and continue to press for further policy improvements.
- A Visa and Immigration Policy for the Brain-Circulation Era: Adjusting To What Happened in the World While We Were Making Other Plans (published December 2009)
- Realizing the Rice-Chertoff Vision: A National-Interest-Based Visa Policy for the United States (published January 2007)
- A National-Interest-Based Visa Policy for Students and Scholars (first published April 2004)
- Statement by U.S. Ambassador Locke and Facts on U.S. Visas in Mission China (February 9, 2012)
- U.S. State Department Fact Sheet on Visa Pilot Program (January 19, 2012)
- Obama Administration Takes Action to Increase Travel and Tourism (January 19, 2012)
- Foreign Affairs Manual citation: 9 FAM 41.102 N9.1 (updated January 24, 2012)