As we reported in the October/November 2012 issue of the Immigration eAuthority, in September 2012, a new visa processing system aimed at streamlining and standardizing visa application procedures for all applicants, was implemented at all U.S. consular posts in India. The new initiative went into effect in conjunction with the earlier Interview Waiver Program (IWP), introduced in March 2012, with a view to improving consular services to meet increased visa demand in India. The IWP permits consular officers to waive interviews for nonimmigrant visa applicants who were interviewed in connection with certain previously approved visa applications, thus enabling applicants to complete the requirements for a visa renewal without having to visit an embassy or consulate.
The U.S. Mission to India recently announced the expansion of the IWP. It is anticipated that the expanded IWP will benefit thousands of additional applicants in India who qualify for the interview waiver.
Under the previous program, only foreign nationals applying to renew a B-1/B-2, C-1D, J-2, L-2, or H-4 visa, children below age 7 traveling on any visa class, or applicants age 80 or older traveling on any visa class were eligible for interview waivers in India.
Under the expanded program, qualifying foreign nationals applying to renew an F or J visa; renewing an H-1B or L-1A/L-1B visa (with the same petitioner/employer that sponsored the employee’s prior visa); and children below age 14 with a current visa in the same category as that of a parent applying for renewal, may also qualify for interview waivers at a U.S. embassy or consulate in India.
Applicants other than children below age 14 and individuals above age 80 must also meet the following eligibility criteria:
The renewal application is within the same classification as the previous visa. If applying for an H or individual L visa, the prior visa is within the same classification with the same petitioner/employer that sponsored the employee’s prior visa.
The applicant’s most recent visa was issued after August 1, 2004 (or to qualify for the IWP drop-box application services, after November 1, 2008).
The visa is valid or recently expired (expired within 48 months of the expiration of the previously held visa if the applicant is applying for a B-1/B-2, C-1D, F, or J visa renewal, or expired within 12 months if applying for an H or L visa renewal).
The applicant’s previous visa was issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate in India.
The applicant is applying for the visa in the consular district where his or her passport will be delivered.
The applicant has not been refused a visa in any category following the most recent visa issuance.
The applicant’s prior visa is not annotated “Clearance Received.”
The applicant’s most recent visa was not lost or stolen.
Applicants otherwise eligible for an interview waiver may yet be required to appear for a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate at the discretion of consular officers. Although applicants who meet the waiver requirements are expected to benefit from more efficient visa renewal procedures, they must still schedule a biometrics appointment at an offsite facilitation center.
Ogletree Deakins is continuing to closely monitor the status of this expanded waiver program and will provide information on any further developments.
Stephen H. Smalley is a shareholder in the Raleigh office of Ogletree Deakins, and he serves as the Managing Director of Emigra Ogletree Worldwide, a partnership of two leading firms, Ogletree Deakins and Emigra. Nicole Brooks is the firm’s Immigration Client Resources Manager.