On December 20, 2023, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) officially announced a pilot program to resume stateside visa renewals for qualified H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants who meet certain requirements. The pilot program will begin on January 29, 2024, and run through April 1, 2024.
The initial pilot phase will be limited to principal H-1B visa holders only; H-4 dependents will not be included at this time. The program is intended to test the department’s 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 consular posts to the United States.
Participation in the initial pilot program will be limited to applicants who meet the below criteria:
The DOS is limiting the scope of the pilot program to applicants who were previously issued visas by Mission Canada or Mission India to assess how domestic visa renewals impact its visa processing capabilities and performance. It believes these two missions provide a population that is representative of the global population.
Further, a key requirement for participation in the pilot is that the applicant must qualify for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement under section 222(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and have fingerprints on file with the department that may be used for biometric vetting. In general, to qualify for an interview waiver, an applicant must (1) have an individual petition approved by the USCIS, (2) be applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence, and (3) have a previously issued visa in the same category OR have a previously issued visa of any type, have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.
The DOS will begin accepting online applications on January 29, 2024. Each week, the DOS will release approximately 2,000 application slots for Mission Canada applicants and 2,000 slots for Mission India applicants. Once the weekly limits are reached for each mission, the online application portal will be locked until the release of additional application slots on the next scheduled date. The application process will close when all slots are filled, or on April 1, 2024, whichever is sooner. The dates of release will be as follows:
Applicants must apply via the following website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domestic-renewal.html.
Once logged on, the applicant will select the consular post of their most recent H-1B visa (either Canada or India) and answer a series of questions to determine their eligibility to participate in the pilot. If eligible, the applicant must then complete the online DS-160 visa application, pay the $205 non-refundable, non-transferrable machine readable visa processing fee (MRV fee), and follow the instructions provided through the online portal on how to send their passports and other required documents, via the U.S Postal Service or another courier service, to the DOS.
Each applicant must provide the following documents:
Applications will be processed 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. Once received, applications and passports will be assessed to determine if they are within the scope of the pilot program.
Applications not within the scope of the program will be returned to the applicant, along with their passport. Please note that MRV fees will not be returned for rejected applications. If an application is rejected by the DOS, for example, because the applicant does not meet the interview waiver requirements, the visa holder will have to apply at an overseas U.S. consular post.
Those applications that are within the scope of the pilot will be forwarded for adjudication. During the pilot program, the DOS will not be accepting requests for expedited processing. If an applicant has an urgent need for international travel, he or she may withdraw their application and request through the online portal that their passport be returned to them. In this case, the applicant must have a current, valid visa to reenter the U.S.; if not, he or she will need to apply for visa renewal via consular processing abroad.
The DOS anticipates processing times to be six to eight weeks from the time the passport and documents are received, and the department intends to complete processing of all applications no later than May 1, 2024. Once approved, the applicant’s passport with the newly issued visa and other documents submitted will be returned to the applicant, via USPS or the courier service, selected through the online portal.
Applicants can check the status of their applications via the CEAC portal: https://ceac.state.gov/CEACStatTracker/Status.aspx?App=NIV
If you have questions or would like further guidance on the stateside visa renewal pilot program, please contact a Thompson Coburn immigration attorney, including Fatima Khan, Melinda Potmesil or Martha Mendez-Fischer.
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