At the end of 2021, the U.S. State Department has decreed that certain visa applications that would otherwise have required an interview at the U.S. consulate can now be applied for by mail instead.
Reasons for the waiver and which visa applicants can take advantage of it are explained in this article.
In a late December 2021 announcement from the U.S. Department of State, all U.S. consulates were authorized to waive the otherwise required in-person interviews with employment visa applicants* provided they meet certain requirements. This rule specifically applies to applicants* for temporary work visas in categories H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q. The new regulation is intended to help ease the consular appointment situation and is initially valid until December 31, 2022.
Generally, all visa applicants* ages 14-79 are required to appear in person at the U.S. consulate. The new rule now allows certain work visas to be issued without an in-person interview. These applications may be submitted by mail.
|REQUIREMENTS FOR APPLICANTS FOR H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, AND Q VISAS.|
|regardless of nationality:||Of a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (e.g. Germany, Austria, Switzerland):|
The existing rule on the option to apply by mail (without an interview) for students in categories F and M, as well as certain J-1 visas (Secondary and University Students, Professors, Research or Short-term Scholars, and Specialists), has also been extended through the end of 2022.
The previous entry requirements continue to exist and apply analogously to the above provisions for U.S. work visas.
What is new in this context is that F, M, J Academics applicants to a Visa Waiver Program country must have already successfully entered the U.S. once with ESTA in order to bypass the in-person appointment. Until the end of the year, an existing ESTA approval(without entry) was sufficient.
As part of this process, the existing interview appointment waiver for certain visa applicants in categories H-2A and H-2B was also extended through the end of the year.
In addition, the general and now extended interview waiver rule continues to apply to all other applicants who wish to renew a U.S. visa and whose old visa has not expired for more than 48 months. This regulation has now been extended until further notice.
I.e., here persons applying for the same visa category may also qualify for the postal submission procedure under certain conditions. Theoretically, this exemption applies to all visa categories (except L-blanket visas), but there are differences depending on the responsible US consulate.
For information on who currently qualifies for an interview exemption at the German U.S. consulates in connection with a visa renewal and thus for the postal procedure, please click here.
Due to pandemic-related closures, reduced appointment capacity, and staffing constraints at U.S. consulates, visa appointment wait times have consistently occurred over the past 2 years, sometimes lasting weeks. Even at the end of 2021, the available interview appointments at the U.S. consulates in Germany were sometimes booked up for weeks, so that many applicants had to postpone their planned trips to the United States.
The availability of appointments in 2022 also varies greatly and changes almost daily. In principle, the extended regulations on postal submission are a positive sign and hopefully contribute to easing the interview appointment situation.
Currently, visa application processes by mail at the German U.S. consulates take about 2-3 weeks to receive the passport including visa. However, it cannot be ruled out that processing times will increase due to higher access rates to this simplified procedure. Applicants can still make a regular interview appointment (subject to availability) if desired. The postal procedure is only an option and does not have to be used.
If you have any questions on this topic, we will be happy to advise you. Contact us here.
You can also get more information on the State Department's website.
Updated on 11.1.2022