On December 21, 2023, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced a pilot program to resume the domestic renewal of H-1B nonimmigrant visas for applicants that meet certain criteria, initially expected to benefit Indian and Canadian nationals. This pilot program, which will be in effect from January 29 to April 1, 2024, provides an opportunity for eligible individuals to renew their H-1B visas without the need for an in-person consular interview. According to the DOS, this program aims to reduce visa wait times and shift certain workloads from overseas posts to the United States.
In 2004, the DOS discontinued the domestic renewal of non-diplomatic visas due to enhanced requirements based on the passage of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, which required that U.S. visas issued after October 26, 2004, include biometric identifiers (collection of the applicant’s fingerprints). With the development of new technologies and improved technologies, however, the DOS has decided to reintroduce the domestic renewal process for specific nonimmigrant classifications. The goal of this pilot program is to test the DOS’ ability to process domestic visa renewals and assess the impact on reducing worldwide visa waiting times.
To participate in the DOS’s pilot H-1B visa renewal program, individuals must meet the following criteria:
- Be seeking to renew an H-1B visa. During this pilot phase, the DOS will not process any other visa classifications;
- Have had their prior H-1B visa issued by the U.S. Mission Canada with an issuance date between January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by the U.S. Mission India with and issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
- Be exempt from the nonimmigrant visa issuance fee, also known as a “reciprocity fee”;
- Be eligible for a waiver of the in-person consular interview requirement;
- Have previously submitted 10 fingerprints to the DOS in connection with a previous visa application;
- Have a prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
- Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
- Have an approved and unexpired H-1B petition;
- Have been most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status;
- Be currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States;
- Have a period of authorized admission in H-1B status that has not expired; and
- Intend to reenter the United States in H-1B status after temporary period abroad.
It is important to note that some of these requirements are mandated by statute or regulation, while others are discretionary requirements aimed at managing the size of the pilot program applicants and controlling costs.
To participate in the pilot program, applicants must submit their applications online through the dedicated domestic visa renewal website. The application period will begin on January 29, 2024, and will close when all application slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever comes first. To control the number of applications received, the DOS will, each week, release approximately 2,000 application slots for applicants whose most recent H-1B visas were issued by Mission Canada, and approximately 2,000 application slots for those whose most recent H-1B visas were issued by Mission India (approximately 4,000 total each week) on the following dates:
- January 29
- February 5
- February 12
- February 19
- February 26
If the maximum weekly limit is reached, the online portal will be locked until the next tranche of slots is released on the next weekly 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 pilot program entry period.
To complete the online application, applicants must navigate to the dedicated domestic visa renewal website and select the host-country post of their most recent H-1B visa issuance, either Canada or India. Applicants will then go through a navigator tool that assesses their qualifications for participation in the pilot program. After completing this self-assessment, qualified applicants must electronically complete and submit Form DS-160, the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. Qualified applicants will also receive instructions through the online portal on how to pay the required Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) application processing fee and where to mail their passports and other required documents for processing.
Applications will be considered in the order received, and the average processing time is expected to be six to eight weeks from the time the passport and other required documents are received by the DOS. The DOS aims to complete processing of all applications by no later than May 1, 2024.
Applicants for a domestic H-1B visa renewal must submit the following documentation:
- A properly completed and electronically filed DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application;
- One photograph taken within the last six months that meets the specifications available here;
- A passport valid for travel to the United States, which should be valid for at least six months beyond the visa application date, and contains a blank, unmarked page for placement of the visa foil;
- The original or copy of the applicant’s current USCIS Form I-797, Notice of Action; and
- The original or copy of the applicant’s Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, available here or on the USCIS Form I–797.
Proper completion of the Form DS-160, meeting the photography requirements, and providing evidence of residence in the United States, are essential for a successful application.
If the application is approved, the issued visa, passport, and other documents submitted by the applicant will be returned via the U.S. Postal Service or a commercial courier. Note that the issuance of a visa in the United States is not a grant of nonimmigrant status, guarantee of admission to the United States, or an extension of nonimmigrant status. Visa holders must still undergo screening and vetting at a U.S. port of entry.
The DOS will return out-of-scope cases without an adjudication and without a refund of the MRV fee. Examples of out-of-scope cases are: i) an application that seeks to renew a visa other than an H-1B visa; ii) any application where the prior H-1B visa was not issued by the U.S. Mission Canada with an issuance date between January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by the U.S. Mission India with and issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021; or iii) any application that is subject to a reciprocity fee.
Visa applications will be refused under section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), if the applicant is subsequently found to be ineligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement under section 222(h) of the INA, or otherwise fails to satisfy the requirements for domestic visa renewal enunciated above (numerals 9 to 12). The DOS will also refuse under section 221(g) of the INA if the applicant fails to provide required documentation or required information but is expected to overcome the refusal before the end of the pilot program. In these cases, the 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.
This pilot program is a welcome solution and significant step to reduce visa waiting times and improve the overall visa processing experience. Applicants who meet the requirements for participation should take advantage of this limited opportunity to renew their H-1B visa domestically.