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A New Visa Stamp Without Leaving the U.S.?

Eligibility and Instructions for the Stateside H-1B Visa Renewal Pilot Program

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For most H‑1B employees, renewing an H‑1B visa stamp overseas is an anxiety-provoking procedure. Even the best-prepared visa applicants can face unforeseen delays (including the dreaded pink slip” for 221(g) administrative processing) and be stuck overseas for months — away from their important U.S. jobs — while they await the return of their passports with renewed visa stamps.

Fortunately, for a lucky few, there’s a new opportunity. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has recently announced a pilot program that will allow eligible H‑1B employees to renew their H‑1B visa stamps stateside, without visiting a U.S. consulate overseas. The pilot program begins on January 29, 2024, and ends on April 12024.

Eligible Participants

Eligible participants include H‑1B workers with visa stamps issued in Canada or India (but unfortunately not H‑4 dependents) who meet all the following requirements:

  • Applying to renew an H‑1B visa between January 29, 2024, and April 12024.
  • Renewing a prior H‑1B visa issued in Canada between 1/1/20204/1/2023, or issued in India between 2/1/20219/30/2021.
  • Not subject to a reciprocity fee (there is no H‑1B visa reciprocity fee for nationals of Canada or India).
  • Eligible for an in-person interview waiver.
  • Have ten fingerprints on file with DOS from a prior visa application.
  • Prior H‑1B visa does not include a clearance received” annotation (often issued after 221(g) administrative processing).
  • No legal waiver is required for visa 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.
  • Intend to reenter the U.S. in H‑1B status after a temporary visit overseas (evidence of travel plans is not required in the application but may be requested later by DOS).

The Application Process

Beginning on January 29, 2024, eligible applicants may apply online.

DOS will release approximately 4,000 application slots each week, beginning Monday, January 29, 2024. New application slots will be released each Monday thereafter (on February 5, 12, 19, and 26), with the last slots released on February 26, 2024. Half of the application slots each week will be allotted to renew visas issued in Canada, and the other half for visas issued in India. After the weekly limits are reached, the online application portal for that country will be locked until the next allotment is available the following Monday. The application process will close when all slots are filled, or on April 1, 2024, whichever is sooner.

What are the Application Requirements?

Those individuals who receive a slot will answer some screening questions to determine their eligibility for the stateside renewal pilot program. Eligible applicants may then proceed with the visa application:

  • Complete and submit the electronic Form DS-160.
  • Pay the Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee online (this fee is non-refundable, even if the applicant is later found to be ineligible for stateside renewal).
  • Receive instructions for sending passport and required documents to DOS.

After the successful online application and fee payment, the pilot participants will mail:

  • The electronically filed DS-160.
  • One passport-style photograph.
  • Applicant’s unexpired passport, valid for at least six months beyond the visa application date, with a blank page for the renewed H‑1B visa sticker.
  • An original or copy of Form I‑797, Notice of Action, showing the H‑1B status is unexpired.
  • An original or a copy of the most recent Form I‑94 Arrival-Departure Record.

How Long Does it Take the DOS to Process an Application and Make a Decision?

DOS will consider all applications in the order they are received. DOS expects processing time to be 6 – 8 weeks from the time it receives the applicant’s passport and documents, with all applications processed by May 1, 2024. No expedited processing requests will be accepted. Any applicant with urgent travel needs may withdraw their application and request the return of their passport through the online portal.

Applicants may check the status of applications online, but DOS will only provide notice of application rejection/​return and notice of visa issuance or refusal.

If DOS determines during its initial review that an application is not eligible for the pilot program, DOS will return the passport and documents without adjudication- and without refund of the MRV fee.

What Happens if an Application Can’t be Immediately Approved?

If DOS begins official adjudication and determines an application does not meet pilot program requirements for any reason, or if an applicant withdraws the application after DOS has begun adjudication, DOS will refuse the application under INA 221(g). The applicant’s passport and application documents will be returned, and the applicant may then reapply for H‑1B visa renewal at a consular post abroad. The INA 221(g) refusal will not prejudice any future visa application.

If DOS determines that an application is potentially approvable before the end of the pilot program but is lacking essential information, DOS will refuse the application under 221(g) and provide instructions for the applicant to provide additional information or correct errors prior to April 15, 2024. If the applicant performs the requested action by April 15, 2024, DOS will overcome the 221(g) refusal and issue the visa.

What Happens if an Application is Approved?

If an application is approved, DOS will place a renewed H‑1B visa sticker in the applicant’s passport, then will return the passport and other submitted application documents via USPS or a courier service to the applicant.

The Future of Stateside Visa Renewal

The Department of State has offered stateside visa renewal in the past. This 2024 pilot program will test: (1) whether DOS has the current operational ability to issue visas, and (2) whether visa processing in the U.S. reduces backlogs in DOS consulates overseas. If the pilot program is a success, DOS may slowly reintroduce a stateside visa renewal program that accommodates additional visa categories.

The immigration attorneys at Boardman Clark are available to help you or your H‑1B employee(s) take advantage of this exciting pilot program opportunity. Let’s work together to make stateside visa renewals a permanently available option.

Have a question? Contact us.

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