Visa Interview Waiver Program: Two-Year Pilot

The U.S. consulates and embassies are currently implementing a U.S. Department of State (DOS) pilot program announced in January 2012. This program allows individuals who meet certain conditions to avoid interviewing at U.S. consulates when seeking their visas. This Visa Interview Waiver Program (IWP) is part of President Obama’s effort to increase U.S. tourism and reduce travel barriers for individuals who have been screened previously, interviewed, and approved for certain nonimmigrant visas. The IWP eligibility criteria vary both by country of origin and location of the consulate. Preliminary information follows, as released by the various consulates on their criteria.

Overview of the IWP

The pilot visa IWP allows certain visa applicants in designated countries to apply for visas without interviews. As stated above, the program is available to those in a select group of nonimmigrant visa categories, and is only available to those who already were approved for the same visa category after a prior visa interview. Those who received visa denials subsequent to their approvals do not qualify. With the exception of certain Brazilians, the visa applicant must still have a valid nonimmigrant visa; or, if the visa is expired, it should have reached expiration within no more than 48 months. Additional IWP requirements exist and each visa applicant is encouraged to check the website of the consulate where s/he will apply for the visa, to be apprised of the latest requirements for eligibility under IWP.

Waiver of Interview Not Guaranteed

The IWP allows a U.S. consular officer to waive the interview requirement for individuals who are deemed to be lower risk and meet the IWP requirements. No one is guaranteed a visa approval or that the requirement for an in-person interview will be waived. The authority and discretion to waive a visa interview is to be exercised by U.S. consular officers in each included country.

Brazilian Citizens Enjoy Additional Benefits

In addition to those meeting the standard requirements, the IWP allows for a waiver of the interview and fingerprinting requirements for first-time visa applicants holding passports from Brazil if they are younger than 16 or over 66 years of age. These provisions for Brazilian citizens are applicable regardless of the country where these individuals apply.

India, China, Russia, and Others Included

The U.S. Department of State posts in India, China, Russia, Mexico, and other nations have announced their participation in the IWP. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi announced its inclusion in the IWP in a press release.

The Murthy Law Firm’s affiliate office in Chennai, India, Murthy Immigration Services, Pvt. Ltd. (MISPL), reported that qualified visa applicants at the U.S. Embassy in India or consulates there may participate in the IWP, if they previously held and are applying for another B-1/B-2, C-1/D, J-2, L-2, or H-4 visa. Additional requirements for the IWP were described in MISPL’s article entitled, Visa Interview Waiver Program (IWP) For Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants in India (23.Mar.2012).

The U.S. Ambassador to China announced on February 9, 2012 that China would be included in the IWP. The visa classes eligible in China are slightly different from those eligible in India, with Chinese applicants for M and O visas potentially qualifying for visas without interviews.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a press release on March 9, 2012 announcing IWP participation in Russia. Applicants for B-1/B-2 or C-1/D visas that expired within 47 months prior to the renewal application are eligible to apply for a renewal of their visa without an interview. Applicants for any other nonimmigrant visa that expired in the previous eleven months may qualify without an interview.

Conclusion: Reverting to the Pre-September 11th Era

While the IWP is a new program, the concept of waiving the visa interview is not novel. Interviews on visa applications were commonly waived prior to September 11, 2001. A series of changes in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks made visa interviews a requirement for most U.S. visa applicants. The IWP reflects confidence in the ability of the United States to protect its security interests without personal interviews of every visa applicant with every visa renewal. By facilitating visa renewals for previously screened and interviewed visa holders, the U.S. goal is to focus resources more appropriately, as well as to encourage tourism to benefit the U.S. economy. The Murthy Law Firm will continue to monitor changes to the IWP program and provide helpful updates through MurthyDotCom and the MurthyBulletin.

Copyright © 2012, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.