On December 21, 2023, the Department of State’s (“DOS” or “Department”) final rule, “Pilot Program to Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the United States for Certain Qualified Noncitizen” was published in the Federal Register, providing both the requirements for participation in the domestic visa renewal pilot program as well as how applications will be processed by the Department.
DOS will begin accepting online applications on January 29, 2024 and conclude the pilot on May 1, 2024. The Department is limiting the scope of the pilot to only certain individuals in H-1B status (note that H-4 dependents are not included in this program). While the pilot is running, however, the Department will concurrently develop processes to adjudicate additional visa categories, utilizing the data and feedback from the pilot to expand the program.
Who is eligible to participate in the pilot program?
The pilot is completely voluntary and in order to participate the foreign worker must meet the following twelve conditions:
- Is seeking to renew an H-1B visa only;
- Prior H-1B visa was issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date between January 1, 2020 and April 1, 2023; or by Mission India with an issuance date between February 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021;
- Is not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (commonly referred to as a “reciprocity fee”);
- Is eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement (i.e., the foreign worker has never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and has no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility);
- Has submitted ten fingerprints to the DOS in connection with a previous visa application;
- Prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
- Does not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
- Has an approved and unexpired H-1B petition (i.e., unexpired I-797/H-1B approval notice);
- Was most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status;
- Is currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States;
- Period of authorized admission in H-1B status has not expired; and
- Intends to reenter the United States in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.
In addition, applicants for domestic visa renewal must reside in the United States. Applicants are not required to submit evidence of residence in the United States; however, DOS may request additional information at any time prior to visa issuance.
Applicants who do not meet the above requirements are not eligible to apply for a visa domestically. If an applicant applies and does not meet the above criteria, then any fees paid will not be refunded and the applicant must submit a new application, pay the associated fee, and apply for a visa overseas at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
When can I apply?
During each week listed below, DOS will release approximately 4,000 application slots, with 2,000 reserved 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. Application slots will open on the days below:
- January 29
- February 5
- February 12
- February 19
- February 26
Once the limit is reached, the online portal will be locked until the next 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 entry period. The application period for the pilot will close when all application slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever comes first.
Those who are interested in participating in the pilot program must use this link in order to apply.
How do I Apply?
On the Domestic Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas for Certain Applicants website, applicants will be directed to select the host-country post of their most recent H-1B visa issuance (either Canada or India). From there, applicants will be taken through a navigator tool, which will assist applicants in assessing their qualifications for participation in the pilot, as detailed above.
After completing the self-assessment, qualified applicants must electronically complete and submit Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. Qualified applicants will also receive instructions through the portal on how to pay the required, non-refundable, non-transferrable Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) application processing fee and where to mail their passports and other required documents for processing.
It is important to note that the navigator tool is not capable of screening out all unqualified applicants and it is possible that the application will subsequently be returned unadjudicated for failure to satisfy the requirements for pilot participation or adjudicated and refused based on failure to qualify for an interview waiver. Should this happen, DOS will not refund any fees.
How will my application be processed?
After an application is submitted to DOS, it will be sorted to determine if it falls within the scope of the pilot. Applications and passports that do not pass this initial screening will be returned to applicants unadjudicated. Applications that satisfy the initial sorting requirements will be forwarded to a location where authorized Department employees will adjudicate those applications. DOS expects the average processing time for a domestic visa renewal application to be six to eight weeks from the time that the passport and other required documents are received. The Department aims to complete processing of all applications no later than May 1, 2024.
As part of this pilot program, DOS will not consider requests for expedited processing. If an applicant applies for domestic visa renewal and learns that they must travel urgently, then the applicant may go to the online portal and withdraw their application, and request that their passport be returned. The applicant’s application will be refused under INA 221(g); however, this refusal will not prejudice any future application.
While the application is in process, DOS will not provide non-automated status reports on individual applications, other than the return of the application, issuance of the visa, or refusal. Applicants may check the status of their application at the Consular Electronic Application Center website.
What if my application is refused?
Visa applications will be refused under section 221(g) of the INA if the application is accepted for domestic adjudication, but the applicant is subsequently found to be ineligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement or does not satisfy the requirements for domestic renewal stated above. In this case, the applicant will need to apply for their visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad. DOS will not transfer any domestic applications to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy nor refund any fees.
If an applicant fails to provide the required documentation or information but is expected to overcome the refusal before the pilot concludes, then DOS will initially refuse the application under section 221(g) of the INA but will send instructions to the applicant on how to provide outstanding documents or information or correct any minor error in the application (e.g., properly completed Form DS-160, photograph meeting Department standards, or evidence the applicant is residing in the United States). If the applicant provides the requested information by April 15, 2024, and the Department can issue the visa through the pilot program, the Department will overcome the 221(g) refusal and issue the visa.
Please contact any member of the Dentons Immigration team if you have any questions regarding the above or would like assistance applying to the pilot program.