Mandatory NIV Interviews In London
As of 6 January 2003, there will be very significant changes in the processing of Non-immigrant Visa applications here at the American Embassy in London.
Of primary significance will be the fact that as of that date, the majority of Non-immigrant Visa applicants will be required to appear at the Embassy for an interview with a Consular officer. These interviews will be conducted only by appointment and walk-in appearances will not be permitted.
The American Embassy has just advised the public through its website (www.usembassy.org.uk) that essentially all Non-immigrant Visa applicants will have a mandatory interview before their Visa applications can be adjudicated. Exceptions will be made, however, for certain categories of Visa applicants who will NOT be required to interview physically at the Embassy but who may instead apply through the mail. Those categories of individuals currently exempt from physical interviews at the Embassy are:
In order to schedule an appointment for an interview, each individual will be required to call the Operator Assisted Visa Information Service on 09055-444-546 Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Calls will be charged at a rate of £1.30 per minute and the phone number can only be accessed from within the United Kingdom. Those outside the United Kingdom wishing to schedule appointments should make arrangements to have someone within the Untied Kingdom call this number to make the necessary appointments for them. Once again, unless you are exempt from the physical interview requirement for a Non-immigrant Visa, it will be mandatory for ALL applicants for Non-immigrant Visas to schedule a physical interview at the Embassy here in London. Interviews can only be scheduled by telephone and at the designated number and during the hours stated above.
For families or married couples applying for Non-immigrant Visas simultaneously, they may schedule one appointment per family or couple. Everyone else must schedule individual appointments. Parents of children under the age of sixteen are permitted to bring the child's completed Visa application to the Embassy, with all necessary accompanying documentation, at the time of their Visa interview. Children under the age of sixteen are not required to physically go to the Embassy for the interview.
Everyone has been encouraged to arrive promptly for their interviews as scheduled. The Embassy has advised that anyone arriving more than thirty minutes after their scheduled appointment time will be refused an interview on that day and will be required to reschedule their interview.
With respect to the time necessary for the interview process at the Embassy, we have been advised that applicants should expect to spend approximately four hours from the point that they arrive at the Embassy to the point that the process has been completed.
All applicants who are required to appear at the Embassy for these Non-immigrant Visa interviews will be required to bring with them: 1.) A stamped, self-addressed Special Delivery envelope; 2.) Any other documents required for their application; 3.) The usual Embassy Visa application forms; and 4.) Completed fee documentation. It is anticipated that from the completion of the interview, "routine Visa applications" will be MAILED back to the applicant "within two work-days" in the Special Delivery envelope provided by the applicant. Applicants are advised to keep a record of the reference number of that envelope and to arrange someone to sign for the document when it is returned from the Embassy. Once again, only Special Delivery stamped, self-addressed envelopes will be accepted by the Embassy and NO applications will be adjudicated on the day of the interview. It is therefore critical for all Non-immigrant Visa applicants who will be required to have interviews to plan and schedule their interviews sufficiently in advance of their travel requirements so as to permit the adjudication to be completed, Visas entered into passports and passports returned by mail to the applicant in advance of travel arrangements being completed.
Please also note that the Embassy has confirmed that the "two work-days" required to process and mail the passports back to the applicant will be for "routine Visa applications". It is therefore suggested that some applications which by their nature or by virtue of the documentation submitted or should anything be lacking in the submission may take longer than two days to process. Of course, applicants are also reminded that the indication from the Embassy of "two work-days" to adjudicate does not mean that Visas will be "approved" within in two work-days but rather that the adjudications will be completed in that period of time.
The Embassy has also confirmed that anyone who responds positively with a "yes" to any of the questions in Box 33 on the normal Non-immigrant Visa application form (DS-156) relating to potential grounds of ineligibility should assume that there will be eight weeks before the application will be processed.
Of further concern and interest is the indication from the Embassy that "as a result of the ongoing review of Visa practices by the State Department and other U.S. Agencies in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Visa applications are subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than in the past which means that in some instances Visa applications are taking longer to process a conclusion that has been customary." As a result, the Embassy has indicated that at the time of the actual interview, applicants will be advised if their specific application will require additional processing time beyond the normal processing period.
The Embassy has further reminded the public that no Visa processing will be completed on the day of the actual interview and that applicants must therefore assume that their passports will be held at the Embassy and not returned to them until the processing has been completed at which time the passport will be mailed back, pursuant to the mailing instructions indicated earlier.
While these changes in Non-immigrant processing here in London are significant and substantial, and while applicants will be inconvenienced by virtue of the necessity for most of them to be physically interviewed, one can and should assume that these new procedures will be subject to analysis and review and possible modification in the future. The Embassy has clearly NOT indicated that these procedures are indefinite in duration and not subject to modification and no doubt, as time passes there will be changes made in some aspects of this new policy.
It is also worth noting that London is not unique in requiring interviews for Visa applicants and that Frankfurt is already requiring applicants to be interviewed. There is also reason to believe that in the months ahead, physical interviews for Non-immigrant Visa applicants will be more "universal" and that many other Posts will also require applicants to physically attend interviews for Non-immigrant Visas.
Please also note the date of these new procedures is effective 6 January 2003. The Embassy has confirmed that it will continue to accept Non-immigrant Visa applications by mail, or through authorized travel agents, until 31 December 2002. In order to be not impacted by the new procedures and subject to an interview, however, the application must be received by the Non-immigrant Visa Unit no later than 31 December and applications received at the Embassy by the Non-immigrant Visa Unit after 31 December will be returned unprocessed.
These changes are substantial and meaningful and no doubt will cause some business and personal travel inconvenience but all Non-immigrant Visa applicants, with the limited exceptions identified above, should make their travel plans cautiously and with full recognition of the time constraints for Visa processing indicated above.
Richard S. Goldstein is Senior Partner of the Law Offices of Richard S. Goldstein, P.C. With offices in New York and London, Mr. Goldstein has practiced immigration law for over twenty years specializing in U.S. Immigration, Consular and Nationality Law.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.