The United States will allow its consular officers to waive in-person interviews for H1B and other certain non-immigrant visa applicants through next year to help reduce visa wait times, the state department said on Thursday.
The H1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
"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 authorised to waive in-person interviews for nearly a dozen visa categories, including Persons in Specialty Occupations (H1B visas), visas for students, temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers, student exchange visitors, as well as athletes, artists and entertainers.
The state department also said it has extended indefinitely the authorisation 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.
US state department in March 2020 had suspended all routine visa services in most countries due to the pandemic. 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.