Changes to the Visa Renewal Process in India

The State Department has recently announced that they intend to expand their Interview Waiver Program to include H1B’s, L1’s, certain F1’s and children applying for any visas prior to their 14th birthday.   Originally, the program only covered B1/B2’s, Dependent visas, transit/crew member visas, children who were 7 years old or younger and applicants who were 80+ years old.

The Interview Waiver Program allows for certain individuals to skip the interview process and simply pay the fee online, submit the DS160,  go to a biometric appointment, and then submit the supporting documents.   There seems to be two types of renewals that one can qualify for.

The first is the Interview Waiver Program “Dropbox” where the applicant can submit documentation via a dropbox which is located at various service centers.  In order to qualify for this, you must meet the following criteria:

  • I received my visa after November 1, 2008
  • I have a previous U.S. visa in the same class as the visa for which I wish to renew
  • My previous visa was issued in India
  • My most recent visa (in the same visa class for which I am applying) was issued on or after my 14th birthday
  • I have no refusals for a visa in any category after my most recent visa issuance
  • If I am applying for a B1/B2, C1D, F, or J visa, my prior visa in the same classification is still valid or expired within the last 48 months
  • If I am applying for an H or L (individual) visa, my prior visa in the same classification with the same petitioner is still valid or expired within the last 12 months. Note: L (Blanket) visa does not qualify.
  • My prior visa is not annotated “Clearance Received”
  • My most recent visa (in the same visa class for which I am applying) was not lost or stolen

The other option is where the applicant goes to an Off-site Facilitation Center (OFC) to have their fingerprints taken and they will drop off the documents at the OFC.  Here is the criteria for this option:

  • I received my visa after August 1, 2004
  • I have a previous U.S. visa in the same class as the visa for which I wish to renew
  • My previous visa was issued in India
  • My most recent visa (in the same visa class for which I am applying) was issued on or after my 14th birthday
  • I have no refusals for a visa in any category after my most recent visa issuance
  • If I am applying for a B1/B2, C1D, F, or J visa, my prior visa in the same classification is still valid or expired within the last 48 months
  • If I am applying for an H or L (individual) visa, my prior visa in the same classification with the same petitioner is still valid or expired within the last 12 months. Note: L (Blanket) visa does not qualify.
  • My prior visa is not annotated “Clearance Received”
  • My most recent visa (in the same visa class for which I am applying) was not lost or stolen

The State Department also warns applicants that “using the interview waiver or drop box service does not guarantee visa issuance. In some cases, you may be required to appear for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, for example, if you submit an incomplete and/or inaccurate application. Submit your application well in advance of your planned travel to allow for the possibility that a visa interview will be necessary.”

The State Department has directed people to this website to get more information: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/in/in-niv-visarenew.asp.

Now, how does this help or hurt an applicant?  Well, right now it is hard to say, but I think that those who are consultants will likely receive an “invitation” to attend an interview at the consulate as Mission India seems hell bent on denying H1b’s for consultants or anyone they feel might be a consultant.  I think those who work directly at an employer’s offices will likely benefit from this program, but based on the recent past, I am taking a wait-and-see approach to this as it appears a too good to be true.

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