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Stateside Renewal of Certain H-1B Visas – Pilot Program

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced a pilot program to resume stateside visa renewal for certain H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants. The program will accept qualified renewal applications from January 29 to April 1, 2024. The goal of this pilot is to test DOS’ technical and operational ability to resume domestic visa renewals for specific nonimmigrant classifications and to assess the efficacy of this program in reducing worldwide visa wait times by shifting certain workloads from overseas posts to the United States.

Who is Eligible to Participate in the Pilot Program?

Applicants may participate in the pilot program for the stateside renewal of H-1B visas if they:

  • Are seeking to renew an H–1B visa;
  • Seek to renew the prior H–1B visa that was issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
  • Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (commonly referred to as a “reciprocity fee”);
  • Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;1
  • Have submitted 10 fingerprints to DOS in connection with a previous visa application;
  • Do not have a “clearance received” annotation on the prior visa;
  • Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
  • Have an approved and unexpired H–1B petition;
  • Were most recently admitted to the United States in H–1B status;
  • Are currently maintaining H–1B status in the United States;
  • Have unexpired period of authorized admission in H–1B status; and
  • Intend to reenter the United States in H–1B status after a temporary period abroad.

Still, participation in the pilot is voluntary. Thus, qualified individuals who do not participate in this pilot may still continue to apply overseas at a U.S. embassy or consulate where they have a residence or are physically present.

What are the Procedures for Participation?

Application Period

DOS will begin accepting online applications on January 29, 2024, via its domestic visa renewal website. To control the number of applications received, DOS will release approximately 4,000 application slots each week. DOS allocates approximately 2,000 slots for each participating Mission group (Mission Canada and Mission India). DOS will release these slots on the following dates:

  • January 29, 2024,
  • February 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2024.

Once application reaches the 2,000 maximum weekly limit for each participating Mission, DOS will lock the online portal until it releases the next tranche of slots on the next application date. Applicants who are unable to apply on one application date may attempt to apply on any of the remaining application dates during the entry period. The application period will close when all application slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever comes first.

Completing the Online Application

Applicants must complete an application via DOS’ domestic visa renewal website. The website directs applicants to select the host-country post of their most recent H–1B visa issuance (either Canada or India). From there, a navigator tool will assist applicants in assessing their qualifications for participation in the pilot.

After completing the self-assessment, qualified applicants must electronically complete and submit Form DS–160. Qualified applicants will also receive instructions through the portal on how to pay the required, non-refundable, non-transferable Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) application processing fee ($205) and where to mail their passports and other required documents for processing.

Please note that the navigator is not capable of screening out all unqualified applicants. Consequently, DOS might subsequently return the application unadjudicated for failure to satisfy the requirements for pilot participation. DOS also might adjudicate and refuse the application based on the applicant’s failure to qualify for an interview waiver. The MRV application processing fee payment will not be refunded in either case.

Estimated Processing Time

The average processing time for a domestic visa renewal application is expected to be 6 to 8 weeks from the time that DOS received the passport and other required documents. DOS aims to complete processing of all applications by May 1, 2024. DOS will not consider requests for expedited processing. If an applicant anticipates urgent travel, the applicant may wish to apply for visa renewal overseas where they have a residence or are physically present.

Applicants who applied for domestic visa renewal and learn that they must travel urgently may withdraw their application and request a return of their passport through the online portal. If the applicant withdraws their application during the adjudication process, DOS will refuse such application and will not refund the MRV fee.

Stateside visa issuance through the pilot program is not guaranteed. If DOS adjudicates the application but the applicant does not satisfy the requirements for domestic visa renewal under this pilot program, the applicant may reapply by filing a new visa application at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad where they have a residence or are physically present and pay a new MRV fee.

Visa and Documentation Return

DOS will return the issued visas, passports, and other documents the applicant submitted via U.S. Postal Service or a commercial courier. The visa only permits the applicant to seek entry at a U.S. port of entry after overseas travel. Thus, the visa is not a guarantee of admission. Also, issuance of a visa in the United States is not a grant of nonimmigrant status. It does not constitute an extension of current nonimmigrant status or an admission to the United States either. Accordingly, individuals seeking to extend or maintain their status while in the United States should file such applications with USCIS per usual practice.

Out-of-Scope Case Returns

DOS also will return certain out-of-scope cases without an adjudication and without a refund of the MRV fee. Such cases are any application:

  • That seeks to renew a visa other than an H–1B visa.
  • Where the prior H–1B visa was not issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date of January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.
  • Which is subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (reciprocity fee).
  • Where the prior visa includes a “clearance received” annotation.

Visa Refusals

DOS will refuse a visa application if DOS accepts the application for domestic adjudication, but subsequently found the applicant’s ineligibility for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement, or otherwise found the applicant’ failure to satisfy the requirements for domestic renewal. In such cases, any applicant seeking to pursue a visa application will have to do so by filing a new DS–160 with a new MRV fee payment at an embassy or consulate overseas.

Additionally, DOS also will refuse an application if the applicant fails to provide required documentation or information but is expected to overcome the refusal before the end of the pilot. In such instances, DOS will provide specific instructions to the applicant with an opportunity to provide any outstanding documents or information, or correct any minor errors in the application, by April 15, 2024, before completing adjudication. Some examples of additional information or documents that may be required include:

  • Properly completed Form DS–160,
  • Photograph meeting DOS’ standards, and
  • Evidence the applicant is resident in the United States.

If the applicant provides the requested information by April 15, 2024, and DOS can issue the visa through the pilot program, DOS will overcome the refusal and issue the visa.

Disclaimer

  1. With certain exceptions set out in the law, most applicants seeking to renew their H–1B visas, whether overseas or domestically, within 48 months of the expiration of their prior visa in the same classification, will be eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement. ↩︎

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