Updated on January 25, 2024
In response to President Biden’s recent Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence, the Department of State (DOS) has issued a Notice of a Pilot Program to Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the US for Certain Qualified Noncitizens, which was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, December 21, 2023.
- The Pilot Program will allow certain H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants to renew their H-1B visas from within the US without attending an in-person interview.
- The Program is limited to noncitizens who have previously submitted fingerprints in connection with applications for a prior visa.
- The H-1B visa to be renewed must have been issued within specified dates by embassies/consulates in Canada or India.
- Only 20,000 total visa slots will be available. They will be released over the course of 5 weeks.
- Applications will open at 12:00 PM EST on January 29, 2024, and will be accepted until April 1, 2024, or until all slots are taken, whichever comes first.
- The self-assessment tool is now live. Interested applicants can check for eligibility ahead of time.
- Applicants may draft and preload the DS-160 form ahead of time.
- The Pilot will not include H4 dependent or other types of visa renewals, but the Department of State expects to open the program to more categories of workers after completion of the initial pilot.
Participation in the Pilot Program is limited to noncitizens and visas meeting certain requirements:
- The Program only applies for H-1B visa renewals;
- The noncitizen must have entered the US most recently with an H-1B visa;
- The noncitizen must be present in the US with an approved, unexpired H-1B visa and they must have maintained that status;
- The prior H-1B visa must have been issued by a consulate/embassy in Canada (between January 1, 2020 – April 1, 2023) or India (between February 1, 2021 -September 30, 2021);
- The noncitizen must not be subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (also known as a reciprocity fee);
- The noncitizen must be eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview. For purposes of the domestic renewal pilot, most applicants are generally eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement if they seek to renew their H-1B visa within the pilot program eligibility dates and they reside in the US. Applicants are not eligible for interview waiver and cannot participate in the pilot if they fall within one or more of the below categories:
- They do not reside in the United States,
- They have ever been previously refused a visa unless the refusal was subsequently overcome and they were subsequently issued a visa or they obtained a waiver of ineligibility,
- They have an apparent visa ineligibility or potential visa ineligibility,
- They are a national/dual national of certain countries, including Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria;
- The noncitizen must have submitted fingerprints with a previous visa application;
- The prior H-1B visa cannot include a “clearance received” annotation;
- The noncitizen must not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance; and
- The noncitizen must intend to reenter the US in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.
The DOS will accept applications for the Pilot Program starting at 12:00 PM EST on January 29 through April 1, 2024. The Pilot Program will provide 20,000 visa slots total, releasing 2,000 slots for Mission Canada and 2,000 for Mission India (4,000 slots each week) on the following dates:
- Monday, January 29, 2024
- Monday, February 5, 2024
- Monday, February 12, 2024
- Monday, February 19, 2024
- Monday, February 26, 2024
The last slots will be released on Monday, February 26, 2024, and the DOS will accept applications until the slots are full or April 1, 2024, whichever comes first. The application portal will lock once the capacity is reached each week.
Completing the Application
- Complete an eligibility self-assessment tool. The navigator will not screen out unqualified applicants, so applicants must make sure they understand all the questions asked in the self-assessment tool and answer them accurately.
- Electronically complete Form DS-160. Under the dropdown menu “Select a location where you will be applying for this visa” and select “U.S. – Domestic.” See instructions and FAQs.
- Pay the $205 MRV application processing fee via major debit/credit card. The fee is non-refundable and non-transferrable.
- Collect and mail documents
Applications will be considered in the order they are received. The expected processing time for each application is 6-8 weeks after receipt of documents. The DOS aims to complete review of all eligible applications by May 1, 2024.
Filed applications will first be sorted to determine eligibility. Applications and passports that do not pass initial sorting will be returned unadjudicated. Applications that meet the eligibility and passport requirements will be forwarded to another location for adjudication.
If an application is reviewed and does not satisfy the requirements of the Program, the applicant may reapply for a visa aboard (refile DS-160 and pay a new fee). DOS will not transfer applications.
If any documents or information is missing, applicants will have until April 14, 2024, to provide missing documents, information, and correct minor errors.
The DOS will not expedite cases or provide automated status reports on applications other than to notify applicants of the return of an application, issuance of a visa, or refusal. Applicants may track application progress here.
Applicants who anticipate urgent travel are advised to not utilize this program but to apply overseas instead. Applicants who find out they must travel after submitting their application may withdraw the application through the online portal and request the passport to be returned. The DOS will not refund application fees for withdrawn cases.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I establish that I am working or living in the United States?
Since the DOS will not conduct in-person visa interviews domestically, applicants seeking to renew their visa in the United States through the pilot must be eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 222(h). Based on this statutory requirement, applicants for domestic visa renewal must be resident in the United States. In assessing this requirement, the Department will review certain information including your “home address” provided on the DS-160, “current residential U.S. address” on your Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, length of employment in the United States and your arrival and departure records. You are not required to submit any evidence establishing residence in the United States with your visa application. If needed, the Department may request such evidence following a review of your application. “Residence” in this context does not mean “lawful permanent resident” (or LPR).
How do I show that I intend to reenter the United States in
H-1B status after a temporary period abroad?
To qualify for participation in the pilot program, you must intend to reenter the United States in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad. You are not required to submit evidence of this intent with your application; however, the DOS may request additional evidence of intent on a case-specific basis.
How do I know if I have an apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility that might make me ineligible for an interview waiver?
Before issuing any visa, the Department of State ensures that every prospective traveler is subject to extensive security screening. If it appears that an applicant may have been involved in an activity of a national security concern, might have a visa ineligibility, or requires further review, that applicant is ineligible for an interview waiver.
In some cases, an applicant may be ineligible for interview waiver for reasons unknown to the applicant. In all cases, those reasons will be tied to a specific statutory ground, but the circumstances triggering the ineligibility may not be known to the applicant at the time of application. The situations which make a visa applicant ineligible for a visa, called visa ineligibilities, are found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and other immigration laws. More information about visa ineligibilities can be found here:
Could a denial of my H-1B renewal application impact my ESTA?
Yes. For the purposes of future visa applications, including ESTA applications required for travel under the Visa Waiver Program, a refusal under INA section 221(g) of a domestic visa renewal application constitutes a denial of a visa. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers with prior visa denials should mark “yes” for question F on the ESTA application form, “Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or entry into the U.S. or had a U.S. visa canceled?”
I was issued an F-1 student visa in India between February 1, 2021, and September 30, 2021, and was admitted to the United States as an F-1 student. I have since changed status from F-1 to H-1B. Do I qualify for this pilot program?
No. The pilot program is limited to individuals who are seeking to renew a previously issued H-1B visa and who were most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status.
What if I meet the program requirements but I changed employers while in the United States? Can I still participate in the program?
If you are currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States and meet the other requirements for participation, you may still be qualified to participate in the pilot program.
How do my family members with H-4 visas apply?
The DOSis unable to process H-4 visas during the pilot program. Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may seek to renew their H-4 visas overseas at a U.S. embassy or consulate where they have a residence or are physically present.
How do I check the status of my application?
Applicants may check the status of their application using the Visa Status Check tool. The DOS will not provide non-automated status reports on individual applications, other than the return of the application, issuance of the visa, or refusal. The average processing time for a domestic visa renewal application is expected to be six to eight weeks from the time a passport and other required documents are received by the DOS.
Written by Brittany Barnett.