The updated visa waiver interview authority will help cut the backlog for non-immigrant visa interviews, making it easier for travelers trying to visit the U.S. in 2024.
The U.S. State Department will expand its policy of waiving in-person interviews for select visa applicants next year, a spokesperson confirmed to Skift. The policy was set to expire on December 31, and the travel industry had been pushing for an extension.
Called the visa interview waiver authority, the policy allows consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain low-risk visa applications. The State Department conducts the policy in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security.
The State Department estimates that these new authorities could at least double the interview waiver-eligible applicant pool compared to the temporary authorities set to expire.
A State Department spokesperson said: “Beginning January 1, 2024, consular officers worldwide have the authority to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain non-immigrant visa applicants who were previously issued any non-immigrant visa, excluding a B visitor visa, and who are applying within 48 months of the most recent visa’s expiration; and certain first-time temporary workers seeking H-2 non-immigrant visas.“
In addition, applicants renewing a non-immigrant visa in the same category within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration will continue to be eligible for an interview waiver, they said.
Finally, the new policy will now apply indefinitely: “Consular officers’ authority to waive the in-person interview for certain non-immigrant visa applicants under these new policies will remain in effect without a sunset date, subject to regular review. ”
U.S. officials believe the changes will make more visa applicants eligible, loosening a chokepoint in the process that had hampered inbound travel from multiple countries.
Visa Interview Waiver Authority: a Game Changer
The visa waiver authority has helped cut visa interview wait times. In 2022 and 2023, the State Department used it to cut the backlog in non-immigrant visa applications. Pent-up visa demand and a shortage of embassy staff caused the backlog.
“This authority was a big help to us in this past year,” Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services, said in a media roundtable in November. “It really allows us to move our work around to where we have the staff to do it in a way that we’ve never been able to do before.”
From October 2022 through September 2023, the government issued a near-record number of visas – more than 10.4 million nonimmigrant visas globally, due in part to interview waiver authority, according to the State Department.
Travel Industry Sought the Change
The U.S. Travel Association thinks the extension will help the U.S. save 2.2. million travelers and $5.9 billion in traveler spending in 2024.
The waiver authority’s December 31 expiration has been a topic of concern for the travel industry. Leaders discussed it at the December 15 meeting of the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.
“Given the millions of 10-year renewals coming up in the next 24 months, that was a primary area of concern,” said Adam Burke, CEO and president of LA Tourism, who attended the meeting.
In November, U.S. Travel Association CEO and President Goeff Freeman sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas “strongly” encouraging them to extend interview waiver authority.
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