The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has announced a pilot program to resume domestic or stateside visa renewals for certain qualified H-1B non-immigrant visa applicants. The following are some of the key features of the pilot program:
1.At this time, the pilot program is limited only to H–1B applicants. DOS will not process any other visa classifications, including H–4s, during the pilot phase.
2.Participation in this pilot is strictly limited to foreign nationals on H-1B visa classification who satisfy the following conditions:
- Their prior H-1B visa that is being renewed was issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Canada between 1/1/2020 to 4/1/2023, or by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in India between 2/1/2021 to 9/30/2021.
- They are not subject to any Visa Reciprocity Fee.
- They are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement.
- They have submitted their ten fingerprints to the Department of State (at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad) in connection with a previous visa application.
- Their prior visa does not include a “Clearance Received” annotation.
- They do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
- They have a currently valid H-1B petition approval.
- They were most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status.
- They are currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States.
- Their period of authorized admission in H-1B status has not expired.
- They intend to re-enter the United States in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.
3.DOS will accept online applications under the pilot program from January 29, 2024 to April 1, 2024. Qualifying applicants must apply online at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domestic-renewal.html. DOS will release approximately 4,000 application slots each week (approximately 2,000 each for applicants whose most recent H-1B visas were issued by Mission Canada and Mission India) on the following dates:
- January 29
- February 5
- February 12
- February 19
- February 26
Once the limit is reached, the online portal will be locked until the next batch of slots are released for each participating Mission group 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 for the pilot will close when all application slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever is earlier.
4.Applicants will be directed to select the host-country post of their most recent H–1B visa issuance (Canada or India), and will then be taken through a navigator tool, which will assist the applicant in assessing his or her qualifications for participation in the pilot program. 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 $205, non-refundable, non-transferrable Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) application processing fee and where to mail their passports and other required documents for processing.
Note: The navigator tool is not capable of screening out all unqualified applicants, hence DOS could return an application subsequently, either unadjudicated for failure to satisfy the requirements of the pilot program or adjudicated and refused based on failure to qualify for an interview waiver. The MRV application processing fee payment will not be refunded in either case.
5.After online submission of the DS–160 and payment of the $205 MRV fee, applicants will receive instructions through the portal to send their passports and other required documents. Each applicant must submit the following documentation:
- Completed and electronically filed Form DS–160
- One photograph taken within the last six months, as per specifications at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/photos.html.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States, which is valid for at least six months beyond the visa application date, and contains a blank, unmarked page for placement of a visa foil.
- Original or a copy of the applicant’s current Form I–797, H-1B Approval Notice.
- Original or a copy of the applicant’s Form I–94
Applications will then be sorted to determine whether they fall within the scope of the pilot program. Applications and passports that do not pass this initial sorting process will be returned to applicants unadjudicated. Again, the fee will be retained to cover processing costs regardless of the outcome. Applications that satisfy the initial sorting requirements will be taken up for adjudication.
6.DOS will return the following applications without adjudication and without a refund of the MRV fee:
- Any application that seeks to renew a visa other than an H-1B visa.
- Any application 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.
- Any application which is subject to a Visa Reciprocity Fee
- Any application where the prior visa includes a “Clearance Received” annotation.
7.If the application is accepted for domestic adjudication, but the applicant is subsequently found to be ineligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement, or otherwise fails to satisfy the requirements of the pilot program, the visa application will be refused under section 221(g) of the INA. In such cases, the applicant will have to file a new DS–160 with a new MRV fee payment at an Embassy or Consulate overseas, to apply for the H-1B visa.
8.DOS also will refuse an application under section 221(g) of the INA 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 the outstanding documents or information, or correct any minor errors in the application, by April 15, 2024. Applicants who are thus instructed will not be required to pay an additional MRV fee, and if they provide the requested information by April 15, 2024, DOS can issue the visa through the pilot program.
9.Applications will be considered in the order received. DOS will not provide non-automated status reports on individual applications, other than the return of the application, issuance of the visa, or refusal. Applicants may check the status of their application at https://ceac.state.gov/CEACStatTracker/Status.aspx?App=NIV. The average processing time for a domestic visa renewal application is expected to be six to eight weeks from the time that the passport and other required documents are received by the Department. The Department aims to complete processing of all applications no later than May 1, 2024.
10.DOS will not consider requests for expedited processing, nor will it expedite applications. If any urgent travel is anticipated, the applicant may wish to apply for visa renewal overseas where they have a residence or are physically present.
11.Applicants must keep in mind that domestic issuance of a visa through the pilot program is not guaranteed. If the application is adjudicated but does not satisfy the requirements for domestic visa renewal under this pilot program for any reason, 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.
If you have any questions regarding the domestic visa renewal of the H-1B visa, or need help securing a US work visa or Green Card, contact VisaPro Law Firm today. Our experienced immigration attorneys will be happy to assist you.