- Introduction: Visa Interview Waiver Program and Drop-Box Submissions for Applicants in Russia
- Where to Apply in Russia
- Eligibility for Interview Waiver Program in Russia
- Drop-Box Submission Process
- Temporary Return of Passport While Drop-Box Application is Pending
- Pony Express Document Drop-Off Locations
- Conclusion: Visa Interview Waiver Program and Drop-Box Submissions for Applicants in Russia
President Donald Trump's March 6, 2017 Executive Order titled “Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” suspended the Visa Interview Waiver Program implemented in 2014 under the Obama Administration. Please see our full article to learn more about the suspension [see article]. The suspension precludes interview waivers for nonimmigrant visa renewals of visas that expired more than 12 months before the renewal application, but within 48 months, except for limited categories.
Department of State (DOS) regulations allow for limited waivers of the nonimmigrant visa interview requirement for applicants who seek renewal of certain nonimmigrant visas within 12 months of expiration. In 2012, the DOS also began the Interview Waiver Program, which allowed for applicants seeking renewal of certain nonimmigrant visas later than 12 months but within 48 months. In order to take advantage of the Interview Waiver Program, the applicant must make what is called a “drop-box” submission. Before reading this article, please make sure to read our full article about the Interview Waiver Program and drop-box submissions [see article].
In this article, we will examine the process for making a drop-box submission when applying to renew a nonimmigrant visa in Russia. To do so, we will rely upon the U.S. Mission in Russia's page with information on filing drop-box applications in Russia [English or Russian].
Note: All links included in this article are up to date as of July 8, 2016. Because the information is subject to change, please use the links in this article for informational purposes only. If you are applying for a visa, use the current version of the applicable websites.
Russia contains the following U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates:
- U.S. Embassy in Moscow
- U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg
- U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok
- U.S. Consulate General in Yaekaterinburg
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow advises that nonimmigrant visa applicants should generally apply for a visa in the consular district in which they reside. However, if the applicant is seeking a fiancée visa [see article] or an immigrant visa, he or she must apply at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.1
The following is a map of U.S. Consular Districts in Russia:
In order for an applicant for a visa renewal to apply for a waiver of the interview requirement, he or she must meet all of the following qualifications:
- The applicant must have had all ten fingerprints collected at a prior consular interview.
- The applicant must be applying for the same type of visa as his or her current or previous visa.
- The applicant's visa must not marked Clearance Received.
- The applicant must be present in the Russian Federation.
- If the applicant is seeking to renew a B1 (temporary business visitor), B2 (temporary visitor for pleasure), I (journalist), C1 (transit), or D (crewman) visa, his or her most recent visa must have been issued after November 6, 2007. The visa must either be currently valid or the applicant must be reapplying within 47 months of the expiration of that visa. If the applicant is applying for a visa renewal in any other category, the previous visa must be currently valid or the applicant must be reapplying within 11 months of the expiration of the previous visa.
The U.S. Mission in Russia explains that foreign nationals who are applying Russia and who are required to pay a visa reciprocity fee must apply in person and pay the reciprocity fee at the consular cashier. Russian citizens will not have to pay a reciprocity fee.
Certain foreign nationals applying for visa renewals in Russia may be able to have a visa renewed for a longer period of validity by applying for an interview in the Consular section instead of to making a drop-box submission and having the interview requirement waived. We have reproduced the following chart from the U.S. Mission in Russia's website which shows the differing periods of validity without an interview and with an interview in different nonimmigrant categories for nationals of Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan:
|Nationals of||Application without interview||Interview in the Consular section|
|Armenia||N — 3 months, single entry visa
Q, R — applicants for theses categories cannot apply through interview waiver process
|N, Q, R — 12 months, multiple entry visa|
|Kyrgyzstan||B, F, M, J, H, I, L, O, P, Q, R — 3 months, single entry visa||B, F, M, J, H, I, L, O, P, Q, R — 12 months, multiple entry visa|
|Turkmenistan||B, F, J, M, I — 3 months, multiple entry visa
C, D, H, L, N, O, P, Q, R — 1 month, single entry visa
|B, F, J, M, I — 12 months, multiple entry visa
C, D, H, L, N, O, P, Q, R — 12 months, single entry visa
A foreign national seeking a visa renewal in Russia should consult with an experienced immigration attorney for an evaluation of his or her options.
Firstly, the applicant must pay the visa application fee. The fee will vary depending on the type of visa the applicant is seeking to renew.
Secondly, the applicant must complete the online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) form.
Thirdly, the applicant must register online with the ustraveldocs.com/ru (English) or http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ru_ru/index.html (Russian). The applicant must follow the steps to schedule an interview (even if seeking a waiver). The applicant must answer the questions in step 7 carefully. If the applicant meets the requirements to make a drop-box submission, he or she will receive a drop-box submission letter. The applicant must then print the drop-box submission letter and prepare the following documents:
- Current passport;
- Current or most recent visa (if the visa is still valid, the applicant must submit the original visa with the application);
- Printed drop-box letter;
- One photograph taken within the previous six months (and not the photograph that appeared on the applicant's previous visa) [See English or Russian for guidance];
- Checklist [PDF English or Russian] of all documents submitted as part of the drop-box application;
- Supporting documentation required for the specific visa.
Fourthly, the applicant must bring the documents to a Pony Express office. The U.S. Mission in Russia instructs applicants to not call-in Pony Express courier services to pick up the documents. If the applicant did not complete the checklist, he or she will be required to complete it at the Pony Express office. A Pony Express employee will review the document checklist before accepting the application for delivery. Both copies of the checklist must be signed by the applicant or applicant's representative and a Pony Express officer. The applicant will not be provided with extra copies of the checklist.
Finally, if U.S. Mission in Russia needs additional information, it will contact the applicant by email. If the application is approved, the applicant's passport and visa will be delivered back to the applicant by Pony Express or held for the applicant to pick up at the address the applicant specified when scheduling an interview. More information about tracking and receiving a passport can be found here [English or Russian].
It is important to remember that no applicant is entitled to a waiver of the interview requirement. Consular officers retain the authority to interview any applicant even if the applicant appears to have met the requirements for a waiver [link].2
After 10 days from the time when an applicant made a drop-box submission, he or she may contact the U.S. Mission in Russia to request a temporary return of passport [English or Russian see Q.7]. If the request is approved, the applicant will receive an email containing instructions on how to collect the passport from the consular section.
The applicant will be ineligible to request the temporary return of his or her passport within 10 days of making a drop-box application unless an unforeseen emergency occurs. The U.S. Mission in Russia lists as examples urgent medical treatment or the death of a relative. It explicitly states that business meetings or tourist trips will not be considered emergencies.
The applicant may designate a representative by name and provide the representative with a letter of authority to collect the passport.
To see a list of Pony Express document drop off locations, please see our full article [see article].
Many nonimmigrant visa renewal applicants in Russia will be eligible to make drop-box submissions. It is important to properly follow the steps listed by the U.S. Mission in Russia in order to be granted a waiver from the interview requirement. However, because consular officers have discretion to require an interview even if the applicant is permitted to make a drop-box submission, an applicant should always account for the possibility that he or she will be required to submit to an interview. Applicants for visa renewals in Russia should consult with an experienced immigration attorney for questions regarding the nonimmigrant visa renewal process, drop-box submissions, and the likelihood that a waiver from the interview requirement may be granted.
- An applicant for a fiancée visa or immigrant visa who lives in Crimea must apply for such visa at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv [link].
- U.S. Embassy at Moscow, “Embassy and Consulates Announce Increased Eligibility in Streamlined Procedures for Visa Renewals,” (Mar. 9, 2012)
Resources and Materials:
U.S. Mission in Russia, “Apply for a U.S. Visa in Russia,” (Jun 20, 2016), available at http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ru/index.html?firstTimeNo