The Department of State (DOS) announced a temporary expansion of statutory and regulatory provisions that allow consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying to renew a visa in the same nonimmigrant visa classification and category if not more than 48 months have passed since the prior visa expired. The expansion of this authority lasts until December 31, 2021.
The March 11, 2021 DOS news item reads:
Expansion of Interview Waiver Eligibility
Last Updated: March 11, 2021
Secretary Blinken, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has temporarily expanded the ability of consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying for a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification. Previously, only those applicants whose nonimmigrant visa expired within 24 months were eligible for an interview waiver. The Secretary has temporarily extended the expiration period to 48 months. This policy is in effect until December 31, 2021. This change will allow consular officers to continue processing certain nonimmigrant visa applications while limiting the number of applicants who must appear at a consular section, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission to other applicants and consular staff. Travelers are encouraged to review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for detailed information on what services are currently available as well as eligibility information and instructions on applying for a visa without an interview.
The Immigration and Nationality Act at INA 222(h) [8 USC 1202(h)] and DOS regulations at 22 CFR 41.102(b)(3) normally allow an interview waiver if no more than 12 months have passed since the prior visa expired. The Trump administration had originally expanded the authority to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying to renew a visa in the same nonimmigrant visa classification and category if not more than 24 months had passed since the prior visa expired. That expansion was scheduled to end on March 31, 2021. With its March 11, 2021 announcement, the Biden administration expanded this even further, to 48 months since the prior visa expired, through December 31, 2021.
- Apply to renew his or her visa not more than (24) months after after the previous visa's expiration;
- Be seeking renewal of the visa in the same nonimmigrant visa classification (i.e., same visa class and same category of applicant within that visa class (principal or derivative) - For example, an H-1B visa holder applying for an F-1 visa, or an F-2 visa holder applying for an F-1 visa, would not qualify for an interview waiver under, since the new visa class or visa category differs from the expired visa class or category;
- Be applying for the visa renewal in the consular district of his or her normal residence;
- Be "an applicant for whom the consular officer has no indication of visa ineligibility or of noncompliance with U.S. immigration laws and regulations;" and
- Have been subjected to all appropriate biometric visa requirements.
The DOS Foreign Affairs Manual instructs consular officers, however, that they can waive the interview requirement for F, M, and J nonimmigrants who meet the above conditions only when the following additional requirements are met:
- The F, M, or J "applicant's SEVIS record indicates a SEVIS status of 'initial' or 'active'"
- For F and M student visa applicants, the applicant is renewing the F or M visa to "(a) continue participation in the same major course of study even if at a different institution; or (b) attend the same institution even if in a different major course of study;" and
- For J exchange visitor visa applicants, the J visa may be renewed only "if the exchange visitor will continue participation in the same exchange visitor program, with the same Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number from the previously issued visa"
- Consular officers are also instructed, that they "should request an interview if you identify any discrepancies between the current and previous visa applications, or wish to interview the applicant for any other reason"
Sources of authority