U.S. State Department Unveils Details of Pilot Program for Domestic Renewal of H-1B Visa Stamps
On December 20, 2023, the Department of State (“DOS”) released details of the domestic visa renewal pilot program, as noted in their announcement earlier this month. Per the draft regulation, the pilot program is limited to 20,000 H-1B visa renewal applicants beginning January 29, 2024. The purpose of this pilot is to test the DOS systems and operational ability to process visa renewals in the U.S. The DOS has not processed visas within the U.S. since the original stateside visa issuance program was discontinued in 2004.
Domestic H-1B Visa Renewal Eligibility
The pilot program will limit renewals to H-1B visa holders who meet very specific criteria, outlined below. Notably, only individuals who have been issued an H-1B visa at a U.S. Consulate in India or Canada in specific timeframes are eligible for the domestic visa renewal pilot program.
Participation in this pilot will be limited to applicants who(se):
- Are seeking to renew an H-1B visa; during the pilot phase, the DOS will not process any other visa classifications;
- Prior H-1B visa that is being renewed was issued by a U.S. Consulate in Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by a U.S. Consulate in India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
- Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (Note: this is commonly referred to as a “reciprocity fee”);
- Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;
- Have submitted 10 fingerprints to the Department in connection with a previous visa application;
- 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;
- Were most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status;
- Are currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States;
- Period of authorized admission in H-1B status has not expired; and
- Intend to reenter the United States in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.
These eligibility criteria were selected by DOS to naturally limit participation in the pilot program to 20,000 applicants.
Domestic H-1B Visa Renewal Application Process
Applicants who meet the strict program qualifications may apply online. Applicants must complete a DS-160 form and pay a $205 nonrefundable, nontransferrable Machine-Readable Visa (“MRV”) fee. Applicants will then receive further instructions through the pilot program portal. The MRV fee will not be returned even if the application is found to fall outside of the program parameters. Immigration counsel can assess eligibility before applying to minimize the risk of a returned application and lost fee.
Important Dates to Consider
The DOS will release ~4,000 application slots each week on the following dates in 2024:
- January 29
- February 5
- February 12
- February 19
- February 26
These application slots are expected to fill quickly because each application, whether eligible or not, will count toward the weekly 4,000 allotment. Once the numerical limit is reached, the application portal will lock until additional allotments are released per the schedule above. The average processing time for a stateside H-1B visa renewal application is expected to be 6-8 weeks from the time the passport and supporting documents are received by the DOS. No expedited processing requests are permitted.
In order to verify your employees’ eligibility for the pilot program, please reach out to your Quarles attorney, or to: