Up until now, personal interviews when obtaining a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa to the United States were the norm, whether for first-time or renewing applicants. That meant that, for example, people who had traveled abroad and simply wished to return to the U.S. to continue their studies on an F-1 visa, or to continue working on an H-1B or R visa would have to not only make sure that their visa was up to date, but if it wasn't, renew it in person at a U.S. consulate in their home country.
In an effort to streamline visa applications, the State Department instituted a pilot program in 2012, whereby certain applicants' interviews could, by decision of the consular officer reviewing the case, be skipped or "waived." This pilot program is now permanent.
The waiver may be offered only to applicants who:
In the case of certain types of visa holders, the waiver can be extended even up to 48 months following their visa expiration. This is possible in every nonimmigrant category other than E, H, L, P or R.
Check the website of your local U.S. consulate in order to find out its procedural requirements for requesting streamlined processing without an interview.