Stateside Visa Renewal to Begin January 29, 2024
Author: Claire Razzolini
As anticipated, on December 21, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) published the Federal Register notice announcing its stateside visa renewal pilot program for H-1B visa holders. The notice outlines the program requirements and application process. The pilot program is very limited in scope, and will run from January 29, 2024 to April 1, 2024.
The following program summary was prepared by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), a leading advocate for a stateside visa renewal program since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in crushing delays in visa processing at the U.S. Consulates abroad.
Who is eligible to participate in 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. (See Question 27 here);
- 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.
NOTE: The pilot program will be limited to H-1B principals only. The agency’s intention in limiting the scope of this pilot to previously issued visas from Mission India and Mission Canada is to assess how domestic visa renewals impacts its visa processing capabilities and performance, and it feels these two missions provide a population that is representative of the global population.
What is the Application Period for the Pilot Program?
DOS will begin accepting online applications for this pilot beginning on January 29, 2024 via https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domestic-renewal.html. Each week, DOS will release approximately 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.
What is the Application Process?
Applications will be submitted via this dedicated website – https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domesticrenewal.html.
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.
NOTE: While the navigator tool is intended to help determine whether an applicant is eligible for the pilot program, it is possible an application will be returned for an unqualified applicant that the system did not screen out. Applicants should note that the MRV fee will not be refunded in any case.
What Documents Must Be Provided?
Under the pilot 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.
How Will the Application Be Processed and Adjudicated?
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.
NOTE: 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.
NOTE: 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.
What Happens When the Visa Is Issued?
Issued visas, passports, and documents submitted will be returned to the applicant via USPS or a courier service. The agency reminds applicants that 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.
What Happens if the Application is Returned or the Visa Refused?
DOS will return without adjudication any application that is not within the scope of the pilot program. DOS will not refund the MRV fee in these situations.
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.
Gibney welcomes this development and looks forward to extension of the program, and expansion to other visa categories and applicants. We will monitor program implementation and performance, and will provide updates as they become available. For questions about the visa renewal pilot program, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author again acknowledges and thanks AILA for its detailed summary incorporated here.