The US Department of State (DoS) has announced that certain international students arriving for studies in 2021 will not be subject to a US visa interview. It’s understood that applicants for F1 visas, M1 visas and J1 visas – including students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists may have US visa interview requirements waived.
US consulates have been given permission to grant waivers to applicants who have previously been granted any type of visa, have never been refused a visa or have no obvious or potential ineligibility.
However, first-time US visa applicants must be a citizen or national of one of the 39 countries included in the US Visa Waiver Program to qualify. A DoS statement said: “Applicants from non VWP countries whose prior visa was issued when they were less than 14 years of age, may need to submit biometric fingerprints, but can still be approved for an interview waiver.”
Visa Waiver Program countries
Nations participating in the US Visa Waiver program include:
All EU member states (excluding Bulgaria, Cyprus and currently Croatia – Croatia has been formally nominated to join)
Several other nations are included in the program, though several countries that send a large number of international students are not participating.
US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has authorized US consulates around the world to have the option of offering US visa waivers for the remainder of 2021, following a consultation with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In-person visa interviews
Stakeholders have previously urged the US to ‘maximize alternatives to in-person interviews’ amid lengthy US student visa delays.
The DoS said: “International students are now and always have been among the Department of State’s highest priorities. The department recognizes the important contributions these students make to our college and university campuses; the positive impact they have on US communities; and the rich benefits of academic cooperation in increasing cultural understanding, furthering research, knowledge, and supporting US diplomacy.”
“The department is committed to supporting the US academic community, while administering US law. The department also recognises this is a critical period of time for students seeking to begin their studies at academic institutions across the US,” the DoS added.
National Interest Exceptions
US academic visa applicants have previously been eligible for National Interest Exceptions (NIE), which means those applying can still enter the US despite a presidential proclamation suspending entry for 33 countries in accordance with COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Lynn Pasquerella, told PIE News: “The dramatic decline in international students due to COVID-19 and US immigration policies implemented under the previous presidential administration have taken a toll, and this move is a step in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, the director of government relations at the American Council on Education, Sarah Spreitzer, said: “In March 2021 we asked the State Department to waive in-person interviews for our international students during COVID-19 because at that time many of the consulates remained closed.”
“This helps to tackle that concern, although it doesn’t cover all of our international students. We know State is working to prioritize student visas to address the current backlog. We hope they’ll continue to consider additional flexibilities and support for our international students as campuses re-open and welcome international students this semester and into 2022,” Spreitzer added.
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