The State Department today formally announced a new pilot program to renew H-1B visas within the U.S. for certain H-1B workers.
Stateside visa processing was discontinued in 2004, except for diplomats, because a fingerprint requirement had been put into place after 9-11, and the State Department lacked the capabilities to gather fingerprints.
The new program is narrowly tailored. It will accept applications from Jan. 29 to Apr. 1. The program is limited to individuals who have previously submitted fingerprints in connection with the application for the prior visa. Approval of applications is discretionary. Requirements are:
- The applicant is seeking to renew an H-lB visa;
- Prior H-lB visa that is being renewed was issued by Mission Canada
with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by
Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September
- The applicant is not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee, such as natives of Mexico and France (Note: this is
commonly referred to as a “reciprocity fee”). See U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country (state.gov);
- The applicant is eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement. For example, applicants requiring a State Department clearance are ineligible for an interview waiver;
- The applicant has submitted ten fingerprints to the Department in connection with a previous visa application;
- The prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
- The applicant does not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa application issuance. See grounds of inadmissibility;
- The applicant has an approved and unexpired H-lB petition;
- The applicant was most recently admitted to the United States in H-lB status;
- The applicant is currently maintaining H-lB status in the United States;
- The period of authorized admission in H-lB status has not expired; and
- The applicant intend to reenter the United States in H-lB status after a temporary period abroad.
An online navigator tool at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domesticrenewal.html will be employed by the State Department for potential applicants to see whether they fit within the parameters of the pilot. If so, they will file online the Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application and pay the machine-readable visa application fee.
The pilot will test the Department’s abilities to resume domestic visa renewals on a wider scale in order to reduce worldwide wait times at U.S. Embassies and Consulates. They will be told where to mail in their supporting documents (DS-160 confirmation page, passport, visa-style photo, Form I-797 Notce of Action for approved H-1B petition, Form I-94 departure record. Average processing time should be 6-8 weeks., after which the visaed passport will be returned via the U.S Postal service or a commercial courier.
For the lucky few who fall within the pilot’s parameters, this may be a welcome alternative to overseas visa processing. And the pilot may take some pressure off consular officers adjudicating a high volume of visas at overseas posts.