Pilot Program for Stateside H-1B Visa Renewals to Start January 29, 2024

Pilot Program for Stateside H-1B Visa Renewals to Start January 29, 2024

Due to increased delays in consular visa processing around the world, the Department of State (“DOS”) has initiated a pilot program to issue a limited number of H-1B visa renewals from within the United States. This program, which will begin on January 29, 2024, is very welcome news, and should alleviate some of the stress, uncertainty, costs, and delays associated with foreign travel to obtain new visas for qualified nonimmigrants.

For almost two decades, nonimmigrant visas have been issued by U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside of the United States. As a result, foreign nationals granted H-1B status to work in the U.S. have been required to apply for an H-1B visa stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad in order to apply for admission to enter the U.S. in H-1B status (except for most Canadians). The visa application process typically includes an in-person interview at a U.S. Consulate abroad, unless that interview is waived in certain circumstances.

Although this pilot program will be available on a very limited basis (20,000 visa renewals), the DOS intends to expand the program to a greater number of applicants and visa types seeking renewals once any technical and operational issues are resolved within the pilot program.

Eligibility for Pilot Program
Per the DOS, applicants for this pilot program must meet the following criteria to be eligible:

  • Applicant is seeking to renew an H-1B visa (other visa types will not be eligible, including H-4);
  • the previous H-1B visa that is being renewed was issued by:
    • a US Embassy or Consulate in Canada between January 1, 2020 and April 1, 2023, OR
    • a US Embassy or Consulate in India between February 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021;
  • Applicant is a national of a country which is not subject to a nonimmigrant visa “reciprocity fee”;
  • Applicant is eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;
  • Applicant has already submitted ten fingerprints to the DOS in connection with a previous visa application;
  • Applicant’s current H-1B visa does not contain a “clearance received” notation;
  • Applicant does not have an ineligibility basis that requires a waiver prior to visa issuance;
  • Applicant has an approved and unexpired H-1B petition;
  • Applicant was most recently admitted to the U.S. in H-1B status;
  • Applicant is currently maintaining H-1B status in the U.S.;
  • Applicant has a period of authorized H-1B admission that has not expired; and
  • Applicant intends to reenter the U.S. in H-1B status after temporary travel abroad.

Application Process
The DOS will start accepting online applications from eligible applicants on Monday, January 29, 2024, and then again on each successive Monday in February. The DOS will accept 4,000 applicants each week (2,000 from applicants whose prior H-1B visas were issued by Mission Canada, and another 2,000 from applicants whose prior H-1B visas were issued by Mission India.) The application period for the program will end when all available application slots have filled, or on April 1, 2024, whichever is earlier. The goal is for the DOS to process all such applications and issue the visas within 6 to 8 weeks of the application submission.  

Applicants will log on to the DOS website and review a series of questions to help determine whether they meet the above eligibility requirements. If so, they will then be prompted to complete the online DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application and will receive instructions on how to pay the $205 non-refundable, non-transferable Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee and where to mail their passport and required supporting documents (all documents must be submitted by April 15, 2024.) The DOS will review applications in the order they were received, and applicants can review the status of their applications here. The DOS will return passports with the issued visas by mail (U.S. post or private courier), with the goal of completing processing of all applications under this pilot program by May 1, 2024.

There will not be an option to expedite the process, so this pilot program is not suitable for applicants with urgent or frequent travel needs. If an applicant must travel and cannot wait for the results, the applicant will be able to withdraw the pending application and request the return of the applicant’s passport and supporting documents for travel purposes. (The applicant must pay the MRV fee again if they apply for the visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.)

The DOS will return certain applications, without adjudicating the application and without refunding the application fee, if the applicant fails to meet all of the program’s criteria and/or if the DOS determines that the applicant is not eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview. In such cases, the applicant’s future application will not be prejudiced by this refusal.

Full details of the pilot program can be found here. As demand for the pilot program is expected to be very high, advance preparations are advisable. Please contact OGC’s immigration team at [email protected] or [email protected] for additional information and guidance.

This publication should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances not an offer to represent you. It is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your attorney concerning any particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have. Pursuant to applicable rules of professional conduct, portions of this publication may constitute Attorney Advertising.

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