@StateDept Suspends Its Visa Interview Waiver Program (IWP) Under E.O. 13780 #Brazil #Argentina

Posted: 4:24 am ET
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On July 27, the State Department issued a redacted guidance citing changes from ALDAC 17 State 77174 on Interview Waivers. The new guidance reflects the suspension of the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) under Executive Order 13780 (E.O.). The suspension of the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) means that more visa applicants will require personal interviews.

Note that the State Department’s current hiring freeze remains in effect and includes Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment jobs (also see Out in the Cold: How the Hiring Freeze Hiring Freeze is Affecting Family Member Employment). We are not quite at the end of the summer travel season so we can expect that that the visa wait time will start creeping up again.  Visa wait times for USCG Guangzhou is 13 days, US Embassy New Delhi is now 15 days, USCG Chengdu is 6-11 days, US Embassy Manila is 10-19 days, and US Embassy Havana is 21 days.  Appointment wait time for visitor visas at US Embassy Caracas is 999 days. Wait times can potentially get even worse next year with State projected to shrink by 2300 personnel, and if the hiring freeze is not lifted until the reorganization is concluded.

9 FAM 403.5 says that “Every alien seeking an NIV must apply in person and be interviewed by a consular officer unless a specific exception allows for waiver of the interview requirement.”

FAM 403.5-2  (U) INTERVIEW REQUIREMENT
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

a. Unavailable   

b. (U) Every alien seeking an NIV must apply in person and be interviewed by a consular officer unless a specific exception allows for waiver of the interview requirement.

c.  Unavailable  

(1)  (U) Generally, all applicants who are at least 14 years of age and not more than 79 must be interviewed in person.

(2)  (U) The circumstances in which the consular officer may waive an interview for a nonimmigrant applicant are limited to the categories set out in section 222(h)(1)(A) and (B) of the INA.  See 9 FAM 403.5-4(A).  

(3)  (U) If you receive a compelling case that does not qualify for an interview waiver under one of these categories, but where an interview waiver appears warranted, you may forward a recommendation for waiver through your VO/F post liaison.

(4)  (U) If admissibility issues or national security concerns arise in the visa application process for applicants for whom the interview requirement has been waived, or for applicants under 14 and over 79, you must conduct a personal interview of the applicant.

d. (U) If none of the grounds in 9 FAM 403.5-4(B) below that mandate an in-person interview apply, any applicant (first-time or renewal) who is:

(1)  (U) Under 14 years of age; or

(2)  (U) Over 79 years of age

    is exempt from the requirement of a visa interview.

The “grounds” and “interview waiver criteria” under 9 FAM 403.5-4(B) only contains the following passage:

Eligibility for interview waiver does not automatically entitle any applicant to a waiver of the interview requirement.  You must interview any and all interview waiver-eligible applicants who you believe should be interviewed to more fully assess their eligibility or intentions, or those whom you are concerned may be from high-threat or high-fraud areas.  Review all source information and liaise with other agencies at post to remain aware of changing threat information. 

9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(1)  (U) Interview Waiver Categories
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

a. (U) Waiver by Consular Officers:  

(U) You may waive the interview of any visa applicant who falls under one or more of the following categories  in (1)-(3) below and who satisfies the requirements of 9 FAM 403.5-4(B):

(1)  (U) Is within a class of nonimmigrants classifiable under the visa symbols A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (except attendants, servants, or personal employees of accredited officials), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, NATO-5, NATO-6, or TECRO E-1 and who is seeking a visa in such classification;

(2)  (U) Is an applicant for a diplomatic or official visa as described in 22 CFR 41.26 or 22 CFR 41.27, respectively.

(3)  (U) Renewals in the same category within 12 months:

(a)  (U) Is applying for the same nonimmigrant visa classification not more than 12 months after the date on which the prior visa expired  (i.e., same visa class and same category (principal or derivative)); and

(b)  (U) Is applying in the consular district of his or her normal residence, unless otherwise prescribed in regulations that require an applicant to apply for a visa in the country of which such applicant is a national.

(i)      (U) For example, a B1/B2, L, or R visa holder who is seeking to renew his/her visa in the same category within 12 months of his/her last visa’s expiration date within the consular district of his/her normal residence qualifies for interview waiver for Renewals;

(ii)    (U) On the other hand, an H-1B visa holder applying for an L-1 visa, an E-2 spouse applying for a visa as an E-2 principal, or an F-2 visa holder applying for an F-1 visa all would need to appear for an interview.

(iii)    (U) The  adjudication may take place outside the 12-month window, as long as the application is made within12 months of the previous visa’s expiration date. The criteria for making an application are defined in 9 FAM 403.2

(c)   Special considerations for applications to renew Student and Exchange Visitor visas:

(i)     (U) Students (F and M applicants) are eligible for interview waiver , provided the applicant is re-applying to renew the same visa classification not more than 12 months after the date on which the prior visa expired and provided the applicant is renewing his or her visa either to: (a) continue participation in the same major course of study even if at a different institution; or (b) attend the same institution even if in a different major course of study.

(ii)    (U) Exchange visitor visas (i.e., J visas) may only be renewed  without an interview if the exchange visitor will continue participation in the same exchange visitor program, with the same Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number from the previously issued visa.

(iii)    (U) You must verify that the applicant’s SEVIS record indicates a SEVIS status of “initial” or “active,” and should request an interview if you identify any discrepancies between the current and previous visa applications, or wish to interview the applicant for any other reason.

b.  (U) Waiver by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services  In unusual or emergent circumstances the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services may waive the interview requirement in individual cases after determining that such a waiver is necessary as a result of unusual or emergent circumstances.  If you believe waiver of the interview is necessary due to unusual or emergent circumstances, contact your VO/F post liaison

c.  (U) Waiver by the Secretary in individual cases when in the national interest: The Secretary of State may waive the interview requirement in individual cases after determining that such a waiver is in the national interest of the United States.  If you believe waiver of the interview would be in the national interest of the United States, but that applicant does not qualify for any other aforementioned waiver categories, contact your VO/F post liaison.

The new guidance also removed the IWP for Brazilian and Argentine applicants.

9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(3)  (U) Discontinued Interview Waiver Program Categories
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

Effective immediately, posts must require an interview for the following categories of individuals that had previously been covered by the IWP (unless the applicant also falls in an interview waiver category described in 9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(1)):

  • (1)  (U) Any applicant whose visa expired more than 12 months, and not more than 48 months, prior to the date of application;
  • (2)  (U) Any first-time Brazilian applicant aged 14 or 15 or between 66 and 79;
  • (3)  (U) Any first-time Argentine applicant aged 14 or 15 or between 66 and 79.

 

#

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Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

— Domani Spero
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The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014.  This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on  The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in  Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s  “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand.   Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded  Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants.  The  Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.

Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:

Consular Adjudicators

In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.  During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor.  To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China.  Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone.  In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent.  We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
[…]

In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages.  In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts.  These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions.  The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012.  That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July.  In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers.  To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.

Interview Waiver Program

We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Visa Waiver Program

[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year.  With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America.  The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.

No to Premium Visa Processing

However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing.  We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process.  The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide.  We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.

The full statement is available here.

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