The good news on the U.S. immigration front has been few and far between since Covid-19 shut down the world in March of 2021. It’s hard to fathom all the barriers that the U.S. government created in that lapse of time, including country-specific bars to entry which kept millions of people from traveling to the U.S., and the ever-changing standards used to decide if someone met the exceptions to that travel bar based on “National Interest”. Finally, on November 8, 2021, the ban was lifted and people from all over Europe and other barred countries began to flood in.

The much less publicized bottleneck was the one that has existed on a consular level, meaning the U.S. embassies and consulates around the world that process visas. First, for almost 9 months, the embassies shut down completely in terms of processing visas, except for direct relatives of U.S. citizens. Then it started to prioritize F-1 student visas, M-1 vocational visas, and J-1 training and internship visas, but getting an appointment for an H-1, O-1, L-1, or P-1 (the main professional visa categories) was next to impossible, leaving U.S. employers without their foreign employees, and many eligible professionals, artist and athletes stuck outside the U.S. or trying to get appointments at far-flung embassies which might temporarily be processing TCNs (third-country nationals). This created a wild west scenario, and cause the backlog of potentially several hundred thousand visas, with no appointment in sight (Some people were told to wait a year or more to get an appointment).

Finally some good news, almost two years into the Covid-driven slowdown/quasi-shutdown of visa processing came on December 23, an early Christmas gift: The authorization extended to consular officers through the end of 2022 to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain temporary employment nonimmigrant visa applicants who have a petition approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).   This new authorization applies to temporary workers applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who meet certain conditions, including that they are applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.

Now consular officers have discretion to waive the visa interview requirement for individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility; or first-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

In applying for this waiver one must adhere to the strict policies and procedures of the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of citizenship or permanent residence. If followed correctly, applicants will be able to mail or drop off their passports and have them sent back with their visa stamp. In order for the consular officer to waive the interview, the DS-160 form must be filled out and submitted by the visa applicants prior to submission, allowing the consular officer to make determinations about the eligibility/admissibility of the visa applicant.

If you have any questions or need assistance with this consular process, please feel free to contact us.

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