The Department of State (DOS) has released the upcoming nonimmigrant visa domestic renewal pilot program details.
The program will open on January 29, 2024, and allow particular H-1B recipients to renew their visas inside the United States rather than traveling to receive a stamp at an embassy or consulate abroad. Applications will initially be limited to no more than 20,000 and will not be accepted after April 1, 2024.
Specifically, the only foreign nationals who will be eligible to participate in the pilot program are those with an H-1B visa approved 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 30, 2021.
“The Department is limiting the scope of the pilot to applicants who were previously issued visas within specified dates by Missions Canada or India to properly assess the performance and capabilities of contractors who manage the majority of the Department’s worldwide visa processing,” a notice published in the Federal Register read. “The population of visa applicants in India and Canada is sufficiently representative of the global population and visa issuances during the referenced periods provide enough cases to make the pilot results meaningful, without overwhelming available resources.”
Foreign nationals must have an approved and unexpired H-1B visa and must qualify for an in-person interview waiver to be eligible for the domestic renewal program. Additionally, applicants must not be subject to a reciprocity fee and have previously submitted “ten fingerprints to the (DOS) in connection with a previous visa application.”
Only the principal H-1B recipient can utilize the initial domestic renewal program, as spouses and dependents in H-4 status are not included in the pilot stage.
“The Visa Office determined that including other visa categories, including H-4s (dependents of H-1B principal applicants), created additional technical and operational challenges that cannot be resolved before the pilot launch date,” the notice read. “Developing processes to adjudicate additional visa categories will continue concurrent with the pilot, leveraging real-time data and feedback to expand the program.”
All 20,000 spaces in the pilot program will not be released when it opens in Jan. 2024. Instead, 4,000 slots (2,000 for H-1B recipients from Mission Canada; 2,000 for H-1B recipients from Mission India) will come available each week on the following dates:
- January 29, 2024
- February 5, 2024
- February 12, 2024
- February 19, 2024
- February 26, 2024
“Every application received will be counted against an approximate 2,000 maximum weekly limit for each participating Mission,” the notice read. “Once the limit is reached, the online portal will be locked until the next tranche of slots are released for each participating Mission group on the next application date. Applicants who are unable to apply on one application date may attempt to apply on any of the remaining application dates during the entry period. The application period for the pilot will close when all application slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever comes first.”
The DOS said applications through the pilot program will be considered in the order that they are submitted. The department estimated the average processing time for applications submitted for domestic renewal will be “six to eight weeks from the time that the passport and other required documents are received.”
The attorneys at Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm continue to monitor the status of the nonimmigrant visa domestic renewal pilot program and will provide further updates as more information becomes available.