In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown had brought on a halt in the visa processing of nearly all visa categories. However, as the DOS returns to normal processing, the immense workload has slowed visa processing significantly. In an attempt to remedy this, the DOS held a meeting to change certain policies and speed-up the US visa process.
AILA’s DOS Liaison Committee attended a recent meeting with the DOS and has revealed changes in the US travel policies, visa waivers and processing times for certain visa types, and restrictions on NIE for certain country nationals.
Here are the key takeaways from the meeting that you must know.
CHANGES IN US TRAVEL POLICIES.
The most significant change in the travel policy granted is that CDC will grant certain individuals with a national interest exception or emergency exceptions. The concerned embassy will need to provide relevant information regarding each case to CDC directly, and it will be up to the CDC whether they approve or not.
Since individuals with certain vaccines were previously not allowed to travel to the US, there are now exceptions to that rule. You can reach out to your embassy and have them provide relevant information that might qualify you for an exception to the vaccine requirement.
Moreover, the DOS revealed that there would be no changes or NIE for travelers from eight specific South African countries. A traveler from these countries being exempted would be extremely rare and reserved only for those in need of extreme humanitarian care or with clear national interest.
Additionally, they also stated in the meeting that travelers with a previous NIE granted under the Presidential Proclamation would not be applicable anymore.
If NIEs require a vaccine exception, they can let their posts know who will need to gather and submit the necessary information to the CDC. It will then be up to the CDC whether they approve the exception or not.
This Proclamation was eliminated effective December 31st, 2021.
VISA PROCESSING, APPOINTMENT WAITING TIMES, AND WAIVERS.
Regarding visa processing, despite the threat of the new COVID-19 variants, the DOS is determined to encourage all posts in all countries to return to normal processing. However, since all country conditions vary, this might not be entirely possible. For this reason, they have introduced changes in certain policies to make Consular Processing procedures more efficient, for example, by allowing more use of interview waivers.
As for visa appointment wait times, the DOS encourages applicants to keep checking the official website to estimate the wait time. However, it appears that their website is not up-to-date.
Applicants who require their applications to be expedited will need to secure an appointment with DOS and share all necessary documentation and information relating to their reason for expediting. Unfortunately, some posts may not be offering expedite appointments for certain visa categories due to the present workload.
OTHER IMPORTANT UPDATES.
Another update that might impact the visa processing and appointments is that the DOS is lifting all hiring freezes. The influx of new hires will certainly help with the backlog. Moreover, across all posts, immigrant visas have been a priority for processing. However, in some countries, such as India and China, B visa appointments are also slowly opening-up.
The visa appointment page will be updated frequently so applicants can book their own interview slots. However, DOS states that applicants should also directly contact their relevant posts to confirm accuracy.
If you have any questions about US immigration, travel policies, and immigration laws, feel free to get in touch with the immigration and nationality lawyers over at NZ Law Group. If you have questions about how these changes and restrictions will impact you and your family’s visa app