Over the past couple of days, there has been further upheaval in the already-stressful US F-1 Visa application process. From a list of FAQs here, this is the key question:

This means that your NIE eligibility will be determined by the visa officer at the time of your interview. As of now, the only condition seems to be that your program should start on August 1, 2021, or later. There is no change in the F-1 visa application process. You will have to get your biometrics done, and you will be interviewed by a visa officer.

We will have to keep on looking for available dates, and as per the last line in the image above, they will open up slots based on existing health conditions. So, as usual, do the following (in no particular order):

  1. Maintain contact with your university officials;
  2. Check for available dates regularly;
  3. Continue working on your visa documentation; and
  4. Do not believe in WhatsApp forwards. Source information from official websites like in.usembassy.gov or the newsroom at travel.state.gov.

This entire turn of events does seem to have a positive undercurrent – the US government is back to its rational ways of pre-2016. From someone who has followed the process closely for the entire period, this bodes well for your future!