The State Department on Thursday announced that it will continue to waive in-person interviews for many nonimmigrant visas throughout 2022.
“The Department of State recognizes the positive impact of temporary work visa holders on the U.S. economy and is committed to facilitating nonimmigrant travel and reducing visa wait times,” the department said in a press release.
“We are pleased to announce that consular officers are now temporarily authorized, through December 31, 2022, to waive in-person interviews for certain individual petition-based nonimmigrant work visas,” the statement continued.
Categories that qualify under the policy include H-1B visa applicants which fill “Persons in Specialty Occupations” needs and are the most common work visa. They are utilized for foreign staffers who need authorization to work inside the United States.
The State Department first issued the policy in March 2020 in an attempt to curb wait times as the COVID-19 pandemic first began to spread.
“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in profound reductions in the Department’s visa processing capacity,” the State Department noted. “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.”
Most often, in-person interviews are the final step in the visa application process. However, officials say that process has been upset by the pandemic, as approximately 60 percent of U.S. diplomatic missions around the world are either partially shut down or are operating at a reduced level, which has led to many work visas being unprocessed, Fox Business reported.
In addition to the H-1B applications, student visas along with temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers will not have to have an in-person interview, nor will student exchange visitors. Embassies, however, will still be conducting interviews in circumstances where they are still required, the department said.
The decision to extend the policy also comes as the latest COVID variant, omicron, is already causing new disruptions even though it is reportedly nowhere nearly as potent as its predecessor variants.
For instance, two major U.S. airlines — Delta and United — announced Thursday that they are preemptively canceling flights due to being short-staffed by the virus. Fox Business, in a separate report, identified “21 instances where United Airlines cancellations on Christmas Eve are directly attributed to the coronavirus, stating that staffing issues have caused the cancellation.”
“For a flight from Denver to Newark scheduled for Friday, for example, the following message is shown on the United Airlines website: “Your flight is canceled due to an increase in Covid cases limiting crew availability. We’re sorry for disrupting your holiday plans and for the inconvenience,” the network noted.
Meanwhile, United canceled 169 Christmas Eve flights with Delta shutting down 127 as of Friday morning.
“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport. We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays,” a United Airlines spokesperson told Fox Business.
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