THE NONIMMIGRANT VISA WAVIER PILOT PROGRAM IS NOW PERMANENT – MAKING LIFE SIMPLER FOR ALMOST EVERYONE! ESPECIALLY INDIANS AND CHINESE CITIZENS, WHO OFTEN NEED TO TRAVEL LONG DISTANCES TO REACH THEIR US CONSULATE.
In January 2012, the US Department of State began a temporary pilot program, which allowed certain foreign nationals to renew a visa without having to appear in person for an interview at the US Consulate. In January 2014, the US Department of State announced that the pilot program is now permanent. This is great news for a large number of foreign nationals who need to renew their visas. This is not a new concept. Prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, visa renewal without interview was common.
The nonimmigrant visa interview can be waived for those who meet the following requirements:
For most classes of nonimmigrants, the current visa must be still valid or not have been expired for more than 12 months, but for E, H, L, P, or R visas, the current visa must be still valid or not have been expired for more than 48 months; the foreign national must be filing for a visa in the same visa classification; must be applying for a visa in the consular district of normal residence (usually his home country) and must be physically present in the country of application; and must have provided a complete set of fingerprints when he applied for the previous visa.
There are a variety of other issues that could make a foreign national ineligible for waiver of the interview, including but not limited to: the previous visa/passport has been lost, stolen or revoked; there has been a name change since previous visa issued; there has been a visa refusal since previous visa; a waiver was required for previous visa; there has been an arrests or conviction since previous visa; there has been an overstays in the U.S. (even by one day) or deportation; and/or there was additional administrative processing required on the previous visa.
Even if you appear to meet all the qualifications after the US Consulate has reviewed your application, you could still be required to appear in person for an interview, therefore you should leave plenty of time and make travel arrangements that allow for flexibility.
Visa application processes, acceptable forms of payments, timing, return of passport procedures, etc. often change. Even if you applied for a visa only one or two years ago, you should be aware that even if you are applying at the exact same US Consulate for the exact same type of visa with the exact same employer and exact same job, the details for how a specific US Consulate handles the process can change. So do not think that it will be just the same!
US Consulates are generally very good about updating their websites regarding changes. For those who contemplate that they would like to take advantage of this process, it would be best to review the US Consular website well before the visa renewal and also again just before the application in enough time that additional documentation can be gathered as needed. You should not try to reuse your old visa application photo! You should submit a new recent color passport photo that meets all the US Department of State requirements.
Be aware of when your passport expires! If you have an expired passport that contains a still valid visa, then you can generally use that visa to reenter the US along with a new passport. This assumes that you requested that your old passport be returned to you when you applied for your new one. Before renewing your passport, you will also want to check with your home country to determine if they drill a hole through the passport when it is cancelled. If they do so and the visa is damaged, then such visa is no longer valid for entry to the US. It is generally best to renew your passport as soon as your home country will allow you to do so, either through your home country consulate in the US or while you are back in your home country.
Generally, you must have a valid passport in order to extend or change your nonimmigrant status in the US. If you do enter the US on a passport that is expiring in the near future, you should be aware that you will likely only be admitted up until the date of the expiration of your passport, even if your visa and your nonimmigrant petition approval is valid for a later date! The above is general guidance. As with any immigration issue, it is best to consult an attorney to review all of your specific facts before making any final decisions.