U.S. to allow waiving of in-person interviews for H-1B, other visas through 2022

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The U.S. flag is seen at the Cordova Americas border bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 26, 2020. Picture taken on March 26, 2020 REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

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Dec 23 (Reuters) - The United States will allow its consular officers to waive in-person interviews for H-1B and other certain non-immigrant visa applicants through next year to help reduce visa wait times, the State Department said on Thursday.

"The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in profound reductions in the department’s visa processing capacity," it said in a statement. "As global travel rebounds, we are taking these temporary steps to further our commitment to safely and efficiently reduce visa wait times while maintaining national security as our priority."

The consular officers will now be temporarily authorized to waive in-person interviews for nearly a dozen visa categories, including Persons in Specialty Occupations (H-1B visas), visas for students, temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers, student exchange visitors, as well as athletes, artists and entertainers.

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The full list of visa categories in which the appointment now could be waived can be found here.

State Department also said it has extended indefinitely the authorization to waive the in-person interview for applicants renewing a visa in the same visa class within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration.

U.S. State Department in March 2020 had suspended all routine visa services in most countries worldwide due to the coronavirus outbreak. While the services have been reinstated with a limited capacity and on a priority basis, months-long wait times for certain visa appointments persist due to a massive backlog.

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Reporting by Paul Grant and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Tim Ahmann and Aurora Ellis

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