Visa interview waiver eligibility and latest Covid travel ban in the United States

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Due to the limited capacity to process visa applications during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State (DOS) announced the expansion and expansion of its visa interview waiver program for non -immigrants until December 31, 2022. Currently, US consular officials may waive the in-person interview requirement for applicants who are renew any type of nonimmigrant visa in the same visa category in 48 months of its expiration. This authorization is now extended indefinitely.

On December 23, 2021, the DOS, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, granted consular officials until the end of 2022 the power to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain non-visa applicants. immigrant and their eligible derivatives who have a petition approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Extended authority applies to applicants H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q, provided the applicants meet certain conditions.

In addition, the DOS extended until the end of 2022 previously approved policies for waiving in-person interview for other types of selected visas, including F, M, and academic J Visa. Certain H-2 applicants (temporary farm and non-farm workers) can also bypass the in-person interview requirement.

This new authorization applies to temporary workers who have already obtained any type of visa and to new visa applicants who meet the specific criteria set out below. Standard eligibility criteria for all candidates is to apply for a visa in his country of nationality or residence.

Eligibility criteria for applicants who have already obtained a visa

  • Applicants have already received any type of visa;

  • Applicants have never been refused a visa unless that refusal has been overcome or canceled; and

  • Applicants have no apparent or potential ineligibility to receive a visa.

Eligibility criteria for applicants for an initial visa

Applicants are citizens or nationals of a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP);

  • Applicants have no apparent or potential ineligibility to receive a visa; and

  • Applicants have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The implementation of maintenance waiver policies is discretionary

U.S. Embassies and Consulates may choose not to implement maintenance waiver policies; thus, consular officials have the discretion to require an in-person interview on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, visa applicants are encouraged to check the websites of the United States embassy or consulate to confirm the level of services offered and to find guidelines for applying for an interview-free visa. These policies only extend and expand the eligibility for a waiver of in person interview associated with the visa application process at a consulate outside the United States. Applicants must always be present in the country concerned to process their visa application. Given the references to ‘nationality and residence’, it is unlikely that third country nationals visiting a given country will be able to benefit from an interview waiver under these new policies. However, DOS may issue additional guidance or modifications to these requirements.

COVID-related travel restrictions lifted in South Africa and neighboring countries

On December 29, 2021, President Biden issued a presidential proclamation repealing the COVID-19 travel restriction imposed last month on the eight southern African countries, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, due to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. The revocation and lifting of this travel ban will take effect at 12:01 a.m. EST on December 31, 2021.

Please keep in mind that global COVID vaccination and testing requirements remain in place for travelers to the United States. Further details on these requirements, including exceptions and waivers due to humanitarian concerns, are available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

© Copyright 2021 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPRevue nationale de droit, volume XI, number 364


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