U.S. Visa Dropbox Eligibility Extended to 24 months

Posted by Frank Gogol

If you are a United States visa holder and are planning to renew your visa (for example your F1 visa), you may have heard about the U.S. Visa DropBox facility. The DropBox facility makes visa renewals quick and easy by helping applicants eliminate the in-person visa interview requirement. 

Until now, the U.S. Visa DropBox facility has only been available to visa holders whose previous visa was valid or expired in the last 12 months. In August 2020, however, the U.S. Department of State extended the eligibility requirements to enable more visa holders to qualify for this facility.

In this article, we look at what the extension means for visa holders and whether you might qualify! 

What is Visa Stamping?

Visa stamping is the process whereby you receive your visa. Your visa is endorsed (stamped) in your passport after your visa was approved. Visa stamping happens after you’ve gone through the application process and completed all the required steps. 

Usually, when you get a U.S. visa at a U.S. Consulate, it will involve providing your biometrics and attending an in-person interview. You are required to attend a visa interview unless you are eligible for a visa interview waiver

This is where the U.S. Visa DropBox comes in. 

What is Dropbox for U.S. Visas?

If you are renewing your existing U.S. visa and meet certain eligibility criteria (discussed below), you don’t have to attend an in-person visa interview conducted by a U.S. visa officer. You can simply submit all your visa related documents and get a U.S. visa stamp without attending an interview. 

The facility or process used to apply for your visa renewal without the visa interview is known as the U.S. Visa DropBox. There isn’t an actual box for the U.S. Visa DropBox. The facility to submit documents without an interview is just called “DropBox.” 

Generally, the criteria to qualify to use the U.S. Visa DropBox is: 

  • You are renewing your visa in the same visa category
  • Your most recent visa was issued in your home country (same country as renewal) 
  • You received your visa after January 1, 2008
  • Your visa should not have annotations like “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”
  • Your visa must have been issued after your 14th birthday
  • Your visa hasn’t been lost, stolen, or canceled (i.e., you are not applying for replacement) 
  • You haven’t been refused a visa in any other visa category since your most recent visa was issued, and
  • The visa must be valid or must have expired in the last 12 months. 

You can also check whether you are eligible to use the U.S. Visa DropBox by using the U.S. Visa DropBox online app available here.

Also, remember your dependents aren’t eligible to use the U.S. Visa DropBox just because you are eligible. Generally, dependents on dependent visas still have to attend the in-person interview. For example, if you are an H1B visa holder and you’re renewing your H1B visa through the U.S. Visa DropBox, your H4 visa spouse won’t be able to use the U.S. Visa DropBox as well. You can utilize the DropBox while your H4 visa spouse attends the interview. Or, you can give up your option to use the U.S. Visa DropBox and combine your application with your H4 visa spouse’s and appear with your H4 visa spouse at the interview. 

Why is Dropbox Eligibility Being Extended? 

As a result of COVID-19, many U.S. Consulates aren’t fully functional yet. Even though the U.S. Department of State announced U.S. Consulates could open from July 15, 2020, many Consulates aren’t fully operational. Each Consulate has to adhere to their country’s local lockdown regulations. So, most U.S. Consulates are only making limited appointments and aren’t open to normal visa operations yet. 

To help with adherence to the different countries’ lockdown regulations and to avoid unnecessary public risk and exposure, the U.S. Department of State has decided to relax the eligibility requirements for the U.S. Visa DropBox facility until December 31, 2020.

Where the usual requirement to be eligible for the U.S. Visa DropBox would be that your previous visa must be valid or expired in the last 12 months, the extension allows for U.S. Visa DropBox to apply where your previous visa was valid or expired in the last 24 months

This extension will be valid until December 31, 2020. 

What Does this Extension Mean for Visa Holders? 

Basically, these extensions mean more visa holders will be able to renew their visas without being required to attend an in-person interview. This protects visa holders from unnecessary possible exposure to COVID-19 and also makes the visa renewal process simpler and easier. 

Let’s look at an example of the difference this extension makes practically. Say you had an L1 visa, and you were applying for the L1 visa to be renewed on October 1, 2020. Under the old requirements, to qualify for U.S. Visa DropBox, your L1 visa must have been valid or expired on or after October 1, 2019. With this new extension to the U.S. Visa DropBox eligibility requirements, you will qualify for U.S. Visa DropBox if your visa was valid or expired on or after October 1, 2018. 

If you are planning to make use of the U.S. Visa DropBox, keep in mind the U.S. Consulate can still call you for an interview after you’ve submitted your documents. Qualifying for the U.S. Visa DropBox doesn’t mean you are in the clear when it comes to renewing your visa. You still have to meet all the visa renewal requirements. If the U.S. Consulate needs more information or wants to call you for an interview, they can still take further steps and require you to attend a visa interview. 

Processing times for renewing your visa through U.S. Visa DropBox generally varies from 1 day to 3 weeks (21 days). It is a good idea to keep a buffer of about 3 weeks after submitting your document through the U.S. Visa DropBox in case you get called for a visa interview. 

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With the new extensions to the U.S. Visa DropBox eligibility criteria, there is a chance you may qualify! If so, your visa renewal process could be much smoother than you expected. 

Remember, if you qualify, you will still have to meet all the visa renewal requirements before your renewal is approved. Your dependents will also still have to attend an in-person visa interview. 

Visit the U.S. Visa DropBox app to see whether you qualify!