U.S. State Department Confirms Pilot Program for Domestic Renewal of H-1B Visa Stamps
The State Department announced they will begin processing visa stamp renewals in Washington, D.C. as early as January 2024. This pilot program will only be available for 20,000 individuals in the U.S. in H-1B status who are seeking to renew the H-1B visa stamp in their passport. Additional eligibility requirements and application procedures have not yet been announced but are expected to be released via Federal Register notice in the coming weeks.
The pilot, which was first announced in February 2023, is one of the State Department’s strategies for addressing pandemic-related visa stamp appointment backlogs at U.S. Consulates worldwide. Wait times for visa stamp appointments in various categories reached record highs in 2022, averaging approximately 200 days. The global wait time for visa stamps has decreased to approximately 130 days across all categories, however the wait times vary significantly from country to country.
In an effort to continue to reduce visa stamp appointment wait times globally, the domestic renewal option will allow eligible applicants to renew their H-1B visa stamp in their passport without departing the U.S. Since June 2004, the State Department has required all individuals to apply for a visa in their passport with a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad through an in-person interview or dropbox appointment. The domestic renewal program aims to decrease risk, uncertainty, and time for employees who previously had to go through the visa appointment process outside the United States.
While the initial pilot program for domestic renewals will be available to 20,000 H-1B applicants, the State Department has indicated that domestic renewals in other visa categories will be added once the program is fully rolled out.
Visa Interview Waiver Authority Expected to be Extended
In a related effort to address long visa stamp appointment wait times, the State Department is working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to extend the expanded interview waiver authority, which will expire on December 31, 2023. The current interview waiver expansion permits consular officers to process visa stamp renewals for individuals applying in the same category within 48 months of expiration of their existing visa stamp without the applicant attending an in-person interview.
The interview waiver program also permits first-time visa stamps to be issued without an interview for applicants who hold a visa stamp of another type. For example, a student holding an F-1 visa stamp can apply for an H-1B visa through the program and will not have to attend an in-person interview if eligible. Previously, the interview waiver program only permitted renewals in the same category of visa for individuals whose visa stamp expired up to 12 months prior.
In a recent briefing with the Washington Foreign Press Center, the State Department expressed optimism that the expanded visa interview waiver authority would be extended, but the program extension must also be approved by DHS. Immigration advocacy groups, representatives of the travel industry, and others are petitioning for extension of the expanded visa interview waiver program, emphasizing that visa stamp appointment wait times still average 130 days and often are much longer. Therefore, extension of the program is critical to efficiently managing U.S. immigration travel requirements for employees and employers.
The domestic visa renewal program may contain specific eligibility requirements, and the interview waiver program is subject to conditions and the discretion of the consular officer. If you have any questions about these programs, please contact your Quarles attorney or: