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January 19, 2024

RENEWAL OF H-1B VISAS IN THE UNITED STATES BEGINS JANUARY 29, 2024

On December 21, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) announced a pilot program to resume domestic visa renewal for qualified H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants who meet certain requirements.

Applications will be accepted between January 29, and April 1, 2024, or when all application slots are filled, whichever comes first.

DOS’ Stateside visa renewal pilot was heavily advocated since the COVID-19 Pandemic, when there was a serious backlog of visa issuances abroad due to lack of appointments in the embassies and consulates. In 2004, DOS discontinued domestic renewal of non-diplomatic nonimmigrant visas primarily because of the biometric fingerprint requirements resulting from the passage of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 required any U.S. visa issued after October 26, 2004, to go through biometric identifiers. The DOS did not have the capability at that time to collect all fingerprint data inside the U.S. and required all foreign national applicants to apply for new visas outside of the U.S. where their fingerprints can be taken at a U.S. embassy, consulate, or offsite contract facility.

With this new pilot implemented by the DOS, H-1B applicants who have already submitted their fingerprints previously for the visa application are eligible for a waiver which if met with other certain requirements allows the applicant to forgo the in-person interview requirement outside the U.S. while following the thorough vetting process required by the government.

DOS has launched an online navigator tool that will guide the user through a series of questions to help assess whether the person qualifies to participate in the H-1B Domestic Renewal Pilot Program.

Requirements for Participation:

Below is a list of eligibility requirements to apply for the pilot program:

Participation is voluntary and limited to principal H-1B applicants who(se):

  • Are seeking to renew an H-1B visa during the pilot phase between January 29, 2024, and April 1, 2024(H-4 dependents are excluded from the pilot);
  • Are renewing a prior H-1B visa issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023, or by Mission India with an issuance date from February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
  • Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance (reciprocity) fee;
  • Are eligible for an in-person interview waiver
  • Have submitted ten fingerprints to DOS in connection with the prior visa application.
  • Prior visa doesn’t include a “clearance received” annotation;
  • Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to issuance;
  • Have an approved and unexpired H-1B petition, were most recently admitted to the U.S. in H-1B status, and are maintaining H-1B status in the United States;
  • Period of authorized admission in H-1B status has not expired; and
  • Intend to reenter the U.S. in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.

DOS is limiting the scope of the pilot to only include H-1B Applicants from Mission Canada & Mission India to have a greater impact on U.S. industry partners (companies and organizations) to allow their employees to travel abroad easily. H-4 and other nonimmigrant visa classifications are not being used in the pilot as the operational and technological efficiency would not be run in time to launch with the pilot’s deadline. DOS is using Mission Canada and Mission India applicants because they can represent the global population and will be the test trial to ensure future visa issuances without overwhelming the current available resources.

Application Period & Certain Limitations:

DOS will begin accepting online applications for this pilot beginning on January 29, 2024.

There will be a total of 4,000 application slots each week released by the DOS. 2,000 application slots for those whose most recent H-1B visa was issued by Mission Canada and approximately 2,000 application slots for those whose most recent H-1B visa was issued by Mission India. The dates of release will be as follows:

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

Once the weekly limits are reached for each mission the online application portal will be locked until the next date makes the next group available. The application process will close when all slots are filled, or on April 1, 2024, whichever is sooner.

Application Process:

To complete the applications, applicants should:

  • Select the consular post of their most recent H-1B visa issuance (either Canada or India).
  • Answer a series of questions to determine their eligibility to participate in the pilot.
  • If eligible, applicants will need to complete and submit the electronic Form DS-160.
  • Pay a non-refundable, non-transferable Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee online by major debit or credit card.
  • Receive instructions through the online portal concerning how to send their passports and other required documents via the U.S Postal Service or another courier service to the DOS.

Required Documents:

Each applicant must provide the following:

  • A properly completed and electronically filed DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
  • One photograph (taken within the last six months), which meets the 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.
  • An original or copy of the applicant’s current Form I-797, Notice of Action.
  • An original or copy of the applicant’s I-94 Arrival-Departure Record.

Evidence of U.S. residency or international travel plans are not required in the initial application filing, although it may be requested by DOS at a later date.

Fee Payment: 

After completing their DS–160, applicants must pay the required $205.00 non-refundable and nontransferable MRV fee via the online portal. Fee payment may only be made using a major debit or credit card. Payment confirmation will be providedat that time.

Where To Send Passport and Other Required Documents:

After completing the DS–160 and paying the MRV fee, applicants will be provided information via the portal on where and how to send their passports and required documentation.

Application Adjudication Process:

It is important to note that applications will be considered in the order they are received. No status on the application will be provided other than returning of the application, or issuance or refusal of the visa. Applicants can check the status of their application via CEAC: https://ceac.state.gov/CEACStatTracker/Status.aspx?App=NIV.

Once received, applications and passports will be assessed to determine if they are within the scope of the pilot program. Applications not in the scope of the program will be returned along with the passport. MRV fees will not be returned. Those that are within the scope will be forwarded for adjudication. If an application is adjudicated but does not satisfy the scope of the pilot for any reason, it will result in a refusal under INA 221(g). The applicant may reapply by filing a new visa application at a consular post abroad with a new fee.

According to DOS the average processing time is expected to be 6-8 weeks from the time the passport and documents are received by DOS, and the agency intends to complete processing of all applications by no later than May 1, 2024. No requests for expedited processing will be accepted. If an applicant applies for domestic visa renewal and requires urgent travel, they may withdraw their application and request through the online portal that their passport be returned to them. If the applicant withdraws their application during the adjudication process, it will be refused under 221(g). The INA 221(g) refusal will not prejudice any future application.

Visa Issuance:

Once the visa is issued, the issued visa along with passports and submitted documents will be returned to the applicant USPS or a courier service. It is important to emphasize the visa issuance is NOT a grant of nonimmigrant status and does not constitute an extension of nonimmigrant visa status or an admission to the United States. A visa only permits an applicant to seek admission at a U.S. port of entry after overseas travel.

Visa Refusal:

If an application is accepted for adjudication but subsequently found to be ineligible, like for example, if the applicant is found ineligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement under INA 222(h), the visa application will be refused under INA 221(g). In these cases, those seeking to continue pursuit of a visa will have to apply at an overseas post and follow the requisite steps.

If an applicant fails to provide required documentation or information but is expected to before the end of the pilot, DOS will refuse the application under 221(g) and then provide specific instructions to the applicant for providing outstanding documentation or information, or to correct minor errors prior to April 15, 2024, to allow for the adjudication to be completed. Examples of additional information may include:

  • A properly completed DS-160
  • A photograph meeting DOS standards
  • Evidence the applicant is resident in the United States

In these cases, a new MRV fee will not be required. If the requisite information is provided by April 15, 2024, DOS will overcome the 221(g) refusal and issue the visa. After May 1, 2024, the visa will be refused.

In conclusion, the Department of State will be processing a limited number of visa renewals with India Mission and Canada Mission to determine the ability to increase capacity in more than 200 consular sections around the world to adjudicate other visa categories – specifically first-time travelers for business and tourism who require in-person interviews. In implementing this pilot, the DOS hopes to reduce worldwide visa wait times by processing more renewals inside the United States which will in turn create an influx of visa renewals for certain nonimmigrant classifications.

HSD Immigration Lawyer will continue to monitor the new pilot program and share additional updates.

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