Washington: Amid growing concerns over rising cases of COVID-19, the US has announced it will eliminate the in-person interview requirement for a number of year-round visa applicants in 2022, including for H-1B workers and students, many of whom are from India.
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows American companies to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical knowledge.
Tech companies rely on it to hire tens of thousands of employees every year from countries like India and China.
“The State Department on Thursday announced that consular officers are now temporarily authorized until December 31, 2022, to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant work visas based on individual petitions and their qualified derivatives in the following categories: Persons in Specialized Occupations ( H-1B visas), special education interns or visitors (H-3 visas), intra-company transfers (L visas), Persons of exceptional ability or achievement (O visas), Athletes, artists and entertainers (P visas), and participants in international cultural exchange programs (Q visas).’
“In addition, the Secretary of State has extended the current opportunity for consular officers to waive the in-person interview through December 31, 2022, for the following other nonimmigrant visa categories: Temporary agricultural and nonagricultural workers (H-2 visas), students (F and M visas), and student exchange visitors (Academic J visas),” the press release said.
Embassies and consulates may still require a personal interview on a case-by-case basis and depending on local conditions. Applicants should check the websites of embassies and consulates for more detailed information on this development as well as the current work status and services, it said.
The State Department said it “recognizes the many contributions international visitors make to our communities and campuses and the positive impact temporary work visa holders have on the U.S. economy, and is committed to facilitating nonimmigrant travel and reducing visa wait times.”
The State Department also said it has extended indefinitely the authorization to waive an in-person interview for applicants who renew a visa in the same visa class within 48 months of the expiration of the previous visa.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a deep reduction in the department’s visa processing capacity. As global travel recovers, the US is taking these interim steps to further its commitment to safely and effectively reduce visa wait times while maintaining national security as our priority, it added.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted the US to close its borders to international travelers from many countries, including India, last year. Later, only passengers holding visas belonging to certain categories were allowed to travel.
Effective November 8, the US lifted all restrictions on fully vaccinated international travelers, including from India, but they will have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight to the country.
The new authorization also 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 citizenship or residence, the press release said.
Under this authority, consular officers have the discretion to waive the visa interview requirement for individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who have previously been issued any visa, and who have never been refused a visa, unless such refusal has been overcome or revoked, and who have no apparent inadmissibility or potential inadmissibility; or first-time H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q individual petitioners who are citizens or nationals of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country, provided that have no apparent inadmissibility or potential inadmissibility and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
The US has seen an astronomical spike in the Omicron variant, with infections jumping to 73% of all COVID-19 cases in the country. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a nearly sixfold increase in the proportion of omicron infections in just one week.
Scientists in Africa first raised the alarm about Omicron less than a month ago, and on November 26 the WHO designated it as a variant of concern.” Since then, the mutant has appeared in about 90 countries, including India.
Much about the Omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe disease.
The total number of coronavirus cases in the US stands at 51,814,812, and 815,423 people have died due to the virus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.