Some of our clients and readers are aware that in March 2012, the U.S. Embassy in India introduced the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) which allows eligible individuals to apply for certain types of visa without being interviewed in person by a U.S. consular officer. Under this program, holders of B, J-2, H-4, L-2, C, D visa holders, in addition to children under 7 years of age and elderly applicants over 80 years of age could have their in-person interview waived.
Last week, in a press release from November 19, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in India announced that the IWP would be expanded to include (1) H-1B and individual (non-blanket) L-1 workers, (2) F-1 students returning to the same school/program; and (3) children applying before their 14th birthday traveling on any visa.
About the Interview Waiver Program
The Interview Waiver Program was introduced in March 2012 and allows individuals who seek to obtain U.S. visa stamp and who meet the eligibility requirements to skip the interview by a consular officer step. According to the U.S. Mission in India, this program has been successful so far and will be expanded to allow additional applicants to take advantage of the streamlined procedure.
Another reason behind this move is also the increasing demand in U.S. visas in India. In 2011, consular officers in India processed nearly 700,000 nonimmigrant visa applications, an increase of over 11 percent over the previous year. At the current time, applicants have to wait fewer than ten days for a visa interview to be scheduled and, according to the Department of State, spend less than one hour at U.S. consular facilities in India. In addition to the Interview Waiver Program, in September 2012, the U.S. Mission in India introduced additional changes to the application process, including the payment, biometrics and interview steps.
Interview Waiver Program Eligibility Requirements
Under the expanded program, the following types of visas are eligible for the interview waiver program:
- Business/Tourism (B1 and/or B2);
- Students (F-1) returning to attend the same school and same program;
- Temporary workers on H-1B visas or on individual L-1A or L-1B visas who are returning to work for the same petitioner in the same classification and the previous visa has not expired for more than 12 months;
- Dependent (J2, H4, L2);
- Transit (C) and/or Crew Member (D) – including C1/D;
- Children applying before their 14th birthday traveling on any visa class;
- Applicants applying on or after their 80th birthday traveling on any visa class.
There are additional requirements, all spelled out at the www.ustraveldocs.com website. Among the most notable are (1) the previous visa must have been issued in India, must be issued after November 1, 2008 (for dropbox use) or after August 1, 2004 (biometrics required); (2) there must not be a “Clearance Received” annotation on the previous visa; and (3) the previous visa must not have expired for more than 48 months (for most classifications, 12 months for H-1B or L-1 visas).
We encourage the U.S. Mission in India’s efforts to streamline the application process and allow applicants, especially H-1B or L-1 workers who are often under time pressure to return to their employment, to process their visas faster. It should be noted, however, that even though some visa applicants may be able to take advantage of the interview waiver program, the U.S. Consular Section officers are likely to call for an interview any applicant whose application paperwork is missing or if there are questions about one’s continued eligibility.
As always, prior to submitting a visa application, please remember to check with the U.S. consulate regarding documentation requirements for the specific visa type. As the U.S. consulates in India are implementing the new application processes, we recommend that you stay flexible, and build in extra lead time to accommodate travel itineraries. Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.