January 16, 2024Client Alert

Limited U.S.-based Visa Processing Returns

The United States Department of State (DOS) is launching a pilot program to allow select H-1B employees to file for renewed visas from within the United States without having to attend an appointment at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The DOS previously allowed visa renewals from within the United States but discontinued that program in 2004 when new laws required U.S.-issued visas to include biometric identifiers, and the DOS was unable to collect fingerprints within the United States. One of the many requirements of this limited pilot program is that participants have already submitted fingerprints in a prior visa application.  This pilot program only applies to H-1B applicants, not their H-4 dependents.

The key requirements for participation in the program include the following:

  • Applicant was admitted to the U.S. in H-1B status, has unexpired H-1B status, and intends to return to the United States in H-1B status.
  • Applicant is applying to renew an H-1B visa and their previous H-1B 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 30, 2021.
  • Applicant is not subject to a reciprocity fee. For information on reciprocity fees, click here.
  • Applicant is eligible for a visa interview waiver, which includes not being subject to administrative processing. For information on interview waiver requirements, click here.

The full requirements for participation in the pilot program can be found here.

The application period will open on January 29, 2024, with additional application slots opening on February 5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th. There will be 2,000 applications accepted each week for each participating Mission. Eligible applicants will apply online here. If applicants are deemed eligible for the program, they will complete a Form DS-160, pay the visa application fee, and receive instructions to mail their passports to the DOS for processing. DOS anticipates processing time of six to eight weeks. Applications cannot be expedited. All requirements should be reviewed carefully before submission. If an applicant is deemed unqualified after mailing in their passport, the application will be denied and the fee will not be refunded.

Unfortunately, most H-1B workers will not be able to take advantage of this pilot program due to its requirements related to the prior visa date and place issuance. Individuals who traveled to India during this time period required National Interest Exceptions for visa issuance and return to the United States. Also, the U.S. Consulates in Canada were closed or operating on an emergency basis for most of this period.

Visa wait times at the U.S. Consulates became very long during COVID, and many have not fully recovered. We hope that this pilot program is successful and can be expanded. Please contact the Immigration Group at Michael Best for more information about this pilot program.

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