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Department of State Announces Discretionary Policy to Forego Visa Interviews for F, M, and Academic J Visas

The Department of State has announced that through the end of 2021, it has authorized consular officers to allow certain F, M, and “academic J visa” (students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists) applicants to receive an adjudication on their visa without an in-person interview in their consular district of residence. This decision is in line with the Secretary of State’s previous determination that F, M, and academic J visa applicants are eligible for National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) under the various Presidential proclamations that suspend entry of individuals in one of the 33 countries subject to these travel restrictions.

It should be noted that this policy is primarily intended for first-time visa applicants, and does not supersede the interview waiver program (Dropbox) that currently exists for renewals. This policy is not without limitations, and is not applicable for any visa applicant who is otherwise ineligible or potentially ineligible for the visa. This policy is discretionary and the policy states that “consular officers may, if they so choose, and pursuant to local conditions waive the visa interview requirement…” Further, in order to qualify for this policy, the visa applicant must have been previously issued any type of visa and have never been refused a visa. It should be noted that if you have previously had a visa refusal that was overcome or waived, you can still qualify. This policy also applies to first-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program.

Most importantly, this policy notes that those visa applicants who are found to be qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel. Applicants seeking to travel on a J-1 visa must contact the embassy or consulate prior to travel to receive an NIE.

This policy is new, and each consulate will be tasked with how to execute this policy guidance. It is important that visa applicants check the status of visa services at their nearest embassy or consulate as consular resources and local government restrictions will vary from consulate to consulate.