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March 11, 2024

UPDATES ON STATESIDE H-1B VISA RENEWALS: PILOT PROGRAM ENDS ON APRIL 1, 2024

On January 29, 2024, the Department of State (DOS) started a pilot program that allows certain H-1B visa holders to renew their visas online without having to leave the United States to visit an embassy or consulate abroad.

Currently, the program is available only for individuals whose last H-1B visa was issued in India or Canada.

The DOS will accept applications from January 29, 2024, through April 1, 2024, or until the maximum number of applications (10,000) for the pilot is reached.

DOS recently noted that their application volume was lower than anticipated.

Per DOS, Application slots for domestic visa renewals for certain qualified H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants remain available until all application slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever comes first.

DOS has been able to process cases on average in seven days, even though processing times as noted in the Federal Register notice would be four-six weeks,

DOS has released navigator tool to see if you are eligible, which is helpful for basic screening and it helps applicants assess whether they qualify to participate in the H-1B Domestic Renewal Pilot Program.

As a reminder, H-1B applicants who have already submitted their 10 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.  at an U.S. embassy or consulate abroad while following the thorough vetting process required by the government.

Participation in the domestic/stateside renewal program requires three steps:

  1. Submit Form DS-160;
  2. Payment of MRV fee ($205.00); and
  3. Schedule the domestic renewal appointment.

To save time, the DS-160 may be “pre-loaded” or completed in advance of appointment slots opening. Once the DS-160 is completed online, applicants must then proceed to pay the visa application fee and schedule the domestic renewal appointment via these links:

While the websites may be temporarily unavailable due to traffic, DOS has not indicated what time of day the new appointment slots will be made available.

It is important to note that it is not possible to know if appointments are available until after payment of the MRV fee. It is not yet clear if DOS will disable accepting payments if all slots are filled or if DOS will make any related public announcements.

Previously, India Mission applicants had been having issues with payment and the DOS recommended using an Indian debit card or Unified Payments Interface (UPI) along with waiting 30 minutes to retry after payment failure.

Below is a concise list of requirements and important things to note for the pilot program.

Requirements for Participation

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.

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 non-transferable MRV fee via the online portal. Fee payment may only be made using a major debit or credit card. Payment confirmation will be provided at 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.

  • Applications are processed in the order they are received.
  • The agency intends to complete processing of all applications by no later than May 1, 2024
  • The average processing time is 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Expedited processing is not available.
  • If you need to travel urgently, consider applying for visa renewal abroad.
  • If it is determined that your application is not eligible for visa renewal under the pilot, your application will be rejected and payment will NOT be refunded.
  • If the application is rejected, the applicant may reapply by filing a new visa application at a consular post abroad with a new fee.

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

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