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US announces visa interview waivers for some students

Select international students intending to arrive in the US for studies this year will be eligible for interview waivers, according to the state department.

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The US has previously made F, M, and academic J visa applicants eligible for National Interest Exceptions

Individuals applying for F, M and academic J-visas, including students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists, may have visa interview requirements waived by consular officers.

Consulates may grant waivers to applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, were never refused a visa (unless such refusal was overcome or waived) and have no apparent or potential ineligibility, the statement from the department detailed.

Additionally, first-time US visa applicants must be citizens or nationals of the 39 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program to be eligible, it added.

“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,” it explained.

“International students are now and always have been among the department of state’s highest priorities”

Countries taking part in the VWP include EU member states, apart from Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia, in addition to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and the UK, among others. Many big sending markets are not included.

Consular officers have been authorised by secretary of state Antony Blinken, in consultation with the department of homeland security, to have the option to offer interview waivers until the end of 2021.

Stakeholders have previously called for the US to “maximise alternatives to in-person visa interview[s]”, among other recommendations, as students face major visa delays.

Applicants are urged to check their relevant US embassy or consulate website to confirm the level of services currently offered and to find guidelines for applying for a visa without an interview.

According the government, each consular section is continuously reviewing its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during the worldwide pandemic.

“International students are now and always have been among the department of state’s highest priorities,” the state department said.

“The department recognises 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 US has previously made F, M, and academic J visa applicants eligible for National Interest Exceptions, meaning they can still arrive in the US despite a presidential proclamation suspending entry from 33 countries subject to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

F-1 or M-1 visa applicants will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.

“Colleges and universities, alongside higher education associations, have been calling on the administration and on Congress to streamline processes for awarding student visas,” Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, told The PIE News. 

“The dramatic decline in international students due to Covid-19 and policies implemented under the previous presidential administration have taken a toll, and this move is a step in the right direction,” she said.

Sarah Spreitzer, director, government relations at the American Council on Education said that here organisation was pleased that the State Department is granting further flexibilities for our international students.

“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,” she said.

“This helps to address that concern, although it doesn’t cover all of our international students. We know State is working to prioritise student visas to address the current backlog, and we hope they will continue to consider additional flexibilities and support for our international students as campuses re-open and welcome international students this semester and into 2022,” she added.

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