Visa interviews waived for certain F, M foreign students and J academic exchange visitors

The Biden Administration has further relaxed the visa requirements for international students, researchers, and academic exchange visitors.  On September 14, 2021, the U.S. State Department announced that, through the end of 2021, consular officers are authorized to waive the visa interviews for certain international academic visa applicants such as students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists.  

Visa interviews are waived for the following categories of visa applicants: 

  • F, M, and academic J visa applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility; 
  • First-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.  
  • 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.  

Previously, the State Department has already found F, M, and academic J visa applicants eligible for National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) under Presidential Proclamations that suspend entry of individuals present in one of the 33 countries ("regional ban"). International stutents therefore are not subject to the regional ban.  

Students seeking to apply for a new F-1 or M-1 visa must still apply through their local U.S. embassy or consulate.  The State Department emphasized that international students who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.  For J-1 visa applicants, however, they must still contact the nearest embassy or consulate prior to travel to receive an NIE.

In March, the State Department already expanded the general interview waiver requirerment for nonimmigrant visas from 24 to 48 months.  That waiver, which is still in effect, was for applicants who were applying for a new visa in the same category of a previously approved visa. 

The announcement is definitely good news for international students or academic personnel who are trying to enter the U.S. before the new academic year begins in the fall.  However, how fast and how easy for individual applicants to obtain their visas still heavily depend on the resources, policies and response time of their local U.S. embassy or consulate.  For example, some consulates would allow the applicants to apply for a NIE beforehand while other consulates, such as Madrid, are requiring applicants to apply for NIEs at the same time as they apply for their visas. If the NIE request is denied, the underlying visa will also be denied.  Consequently, international visa applicants must find out the specific requirements and procedures of a particular US embassy or consulate before making any concrete plans.   

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit to schedule legal consultation.) 


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