Most recent update: July 14, 2022
The viability and predictability of international travel has been upended by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. While U.S. Consulates are resuming regular operations, scheduling a visa appointment and visa issuance are generally difficult and Consulates may change their expedite appointment processes without any notice. We encourage you to plan ahead as best as you can and to communicate with your family, your academic advisor or your PI, and the Undergraduate or Graduate Deans Office to make a decision that works best for you.
Visa Processing. Effective November 19, 2021, the Department of State suspended the prior pandemic-related priorities for visa processing at U.S. Consulates worldwide. Instead, the Department of State has guided each post to focus on reducing wait times for all consular services, subject to local conditions and restrictions.
Tips to Schedule an Interview. We have received reports that many scholars are only able to schedule their visa interview dates far into the future. A scholar who successfully obtained an H-1B visa in India shared the following tips on how to move an interview date forward, without requesting a formal expedite:
- Check the appointment availability slots daily. Do not do it more than three times in one day, otherwise your account will be blocked for 72 hours.
- Join a Facebook group or other social media to connect with other people who are also looking for visa appointments and posting updates.
- Follow the U.S. Embassy and Consulates because in some countries, they regularly post about appointment openings.
In-Person Interview Waiver. On December 23, 2021, the Department of State issued an Important Announcement on Waivers of the Interview Requirement for Certain Nonimmigrant Visas and Expanded Interview Waivers for Certain Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants. Certain visa applicants are eligible to have their in-person interview requirement waived, subject to certain criteria and the Consular Officer's discretion. Discretion means that even if you meet the criteria outlined below, you may still be required to make an interview appointment.
You may be eligible to receive a U.S. visa without an in-person interview, if:
- You are applying for an F, J, H, or O visa in your country of citizenship or residence and you have previously been issued a U.S. visa in any classification.
- You are applying for a first-time F, J, H, or O visa in your country of citizenship or residence and you previously used the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) to enter the United States.
- You are applying for to renew your visa within 48 months of the prior visa in the same visa classification's expiration.
We understand that this is an effort to address the severely long wait times for visa interviews at U.S. Consulates around the world. Each U.S. Consulate will be implementing the waiver process differently and more details will be found on your U.S. Consulate's website. The discretionary policies have been extended until December 31, 2022; however, the visa renewal policy has been extended indefinitely.
International students and scholars are still required to be outside the United States in order to apply for a U.S. visa.
Visa Issuance Delays. As of July 2022, scholars who were granted interview waivers reported extensive delays at U.S. Consulates in Sweden and Germany. Specifically, Consulates acknowledged receipt of an applicant's documents two weeks after receiving them, and the visa was issued after approximately two additional weeks.
In addition to the Machine Readable Visa fee, the U.S. Consulates charge visa reciprocity fees for certain visa types issued to citizens of certain countries based on the validity period. Recently, these reciprocity fees have increased significantly and the validity period has changed. Before you travel and need to apply for a visa, review the Visa Reciprocity Schedule. For example:
- H-1B visa issued to a United Kingdom citizen has no reciprocity fee and is valid for a maximum period 36 months.
- H-1B visa issued to an Australian citizen has a $1,295 reciprocity fee and is valid for a maximum period of 60 months
- F-1 visa issued to a Greek citizen has no reciprocity fee for a 12 month validity
- F-1 visa issued to a Greek citizen has a $105 reciprocity for a 60 month validity
Effective November 8, 2021, the Presidential Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic limits air travel into the United States to nonimmigrants who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Proclamation includes exceptions, for example:
- Children under 18
- Participants in clinical trials
- Individuals for whom the accepted COVID-19 vaccine is medically contraindicated
- Citizens of foreign countries where the availability of COVID-19 vaccination is limited (this exception does not apply to B-1 or B-2 visitors)
- Anyone for whose entry into the United States would be in the national interest. This does not correlate to the national interest exemptions under the prior, regional travel bans.
This suspension and limitation on entry applies only to air travelers to the United States and does not affect visa issuance. Resources with more information:
- Frequently Asked Questions on COVID-19 Vaccinations and Testing for International Travel
- Requirement for negative COVID-19 test within 1 day of departure by air for the United States
- Fact Sheet: Biden Administration Releases Additional Detail for Implementing a Safer, More Stringent International Air Travel System
- Non-U.S. Citizen Air Travel to the United States
- Countries with Limited COVID-19 Vaccine Availability
U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico. On April 21, 2022, the Dept. of Homeland Security extended the requirement for foreign national travelers entering the United States via land ports of entry and ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination upon request.
Suspension of Entry. The Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People's Republic of China (PRC). Proclamation 10043 of May 29, 2020. This suspends the entry to the United States of F and J graduate students and researchers from the PRC whose study or research contributes to the PRC's "military‑civil fusion strategy." "Military-civil fusion strategy" is described in the Proclamation as "actions by or at the behest of the PRC to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC's military capabilities." This Proclamation is based on an individual's country of citizenship (China). It does not apply to undergraduates.
Exemptions. The Proclamation contains exemptions, for example:
- foreign nationals who have a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident spouse
- foreign nationals who are studying or conducting research in a field that would not contribute to the PRC's military‑civil fusion strategy
- foreign nationals whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees
If you believe that you would qualify for an exemption, we suggest that you consult with an immigration attorney since visa applications and admission into the United States are personal applications and are beyond the scope of the International Offices.
The SEVP Guidance issued for Fall 2020 remains in effect until retracted or updated by the Department of Homeland Security. International students with an Initial SEVIS record are eligible to apply for visas; however, they may only enter the United States to attend an instructional program with an in-person component. Caltech undergraduate and graduate programs have an in-person component and students with Initial and Active SEVIS records may enter the United States.
- International Student FAQs provides further Caltech details.
- Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19 (updated May 31, 2022)
Employment While Abroad. Out-of-country remote work is rarely possible. If you are a current Caltech postdoc or staff member, contact Employee and Organizational Development (EOD) prior to making any plans for departure. EOD will evaluate your situation and provide guidance. If you are a current JPL postdoc or staff member, contact your organization's HR business partner (HRBP) (internal site). Caltech and JPL postdocs and staff members will not be able to start new employment while outside the United States. Professorial faculty members should contact International Scholar Services prior to making any plans to work abroad.
Departure from the United States. If your Caltech or JPL affiliation (student graduation, postdoc appointment, staff assignment) is due to end and you cannot make a timely departure from the United States due to another country's travel restrictions or the unavailability of commercial flights, we suggest that you consult with an immigration attorney since maintaining your nonimmigrant status after the end of your Caltech or JPL affiliation is your personal responsibility. The Department of State has provided guidance for J exchange visitors to contact their home country Embassies and to keep records of travel bookings.
The following Executive Orders have been rescinded. They are no longer in effect.
On December 28, 2021, A Proclamation on Revoking Proclamation 10315 revoked the regional travel ban that had previously suspended entry into the United States by foreign nationals who had been in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe within 14 days of seeking admission into the United States.
The regional travel bans are no longer in effect.
On November 8, 2021, Presidential Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic revoked the regional travel bans that had previously suspended entry into the United States by foreign nationals who had been in certain countries within 14 days of seeking admission into the United States.
The regional travel bans are no longer in effect.
Proclamation 10052 suspended entry into the United States of any foreign national in H-1B, H-2B, H-4, J (non-academic categories), and L nonimmigrant classifications. The H-1B visa restrictions are no longer in effect.