Although COVID-related restrictions have begun to ease in parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world, countless foreign nationals are still running up against travel restrictions and U.S. consular shutdowns and delays that are frustrating travel plans and preventing many from entering the U.S. for work or to reunite with family.
Many embassies and consulates remain closed for routine visa services, while others are operating only on a very limited basis. This has stranded many people outside the U.S. unable to obtain timely appointments to apply for visas. Others are stuck in the U.S. unable to travel abroad because they may not be able to obtain a visa in order to return.
How to Schedule Visa Appointments
- The State Department maintains a website that lists visa appointment wait times, and individual embassy websites have updates and information regarding their current level of operations. However, the only way to determine with accuracy when an appointment is available at an embassy or consulate is to pay the required visa fee and schedule an appointment on the embassy’s appointment website.
- Foreign nationals who are unable to schedule visa appointments in their home country or the country where they are currently present can try to schedule an appointment at an embassy or consulate in another country. However, many embassies and consulates are not currently scheduling appointments for “third country nationals” (i.e., individuals who are not citizens or residents of the countries in which the embassy or consulate is located).
- Some embassies and consulates note on their websites whether they can accommodate visa appointments from third country nationals. Others may respond to inquiries to confirm whether or not they will schedule appointments for third country nationals.
How to Obtain an Expedited Appointment
- Foreign nationals who are unable to schedule visa appointments to accommodate their travel needs can apply for expedited appointments. The basis required for obtaining an expedited appointment (and the process for requesting one) varies depending on the consular post.
- Most posts require you to schedule the first available appointment and then will allow you to request an expedited appointment through the appointment website in order to schedule an earlier appointment. Others may take requests for emergency appointments by phone or email.
- An acceptable basis for obtaining an expedited appointment may include:
- Travel to the U.S. to obtain urgent medical treatment for the applicant or to accompany a family member in need of urgent medical treatment;
- Travel to attend a funeral of an immediate family member or make arrangements to repatriate the body of an immediate family member; or
- Travel for an urgent business need where there is a risk of significant loss if an expedited appointment is not scheduled.
Interview Waivers for Visa Renewals
- Many embassies and consulates are waiving the visa interview requirement for individuals who are renewing a visa, so long as the individual has a visa in the same classification. Due to COVID, the State Department has authorized embassies and consulates to waive interviews for individuals whose visas expired in the last 48 months (rather than 24 months).
COVID Travel Ban Waivers
- For individuals who are subject to a COVID related travel ban due to their presence in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, China and India, obtaining a visa appointment is only half the battle. They will also need to apply for a national interest exception in order to obtain a visa and a waiver to travel directly to the U.S. notwithstanding the COVID travel ban.