In a significant development, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced on December 21 the launch of a stateside visa renewal pilot program, marking a pivotal shift in the approach to nonimmigrant visa renewals. The Garvish Immigration Law Group is pleased to provide insights into this program, designed to address consular processing delays and employment gaps while reducing overall visa wait times.
Overview of the Pilot Program:
Commencing its initial pilot run on January 29, 2024, the stateside visa renewal pilot program is limited to approximately 20,000 nonimmigrant visa holders. The DOS plans to release about 4,000 application slots during each of the initial five weeks, aiming to streamline the visa renewal process and alleviate challenges associated with consular processing delays.
The pilot program’s scope is initially limited to applicants issued visas by Mission Canada or India during specified dates, specifically H-1B principal applicants (not their dependents). This focused approach allows the DOS to thoroughly assess the performance and capabilities of contractors managing visa processing before expanding the program to other visa categories.
To be eligible for participation, applicants must meet the following criteria:
- Only seeking to renew an H-1B visa (other visa classifications will not be processed during the pilot phase).
- Were issued their H-1B visa by Mission Canada between January 1, 2020, and April 1, 2023, or by Mission India between February 1, 2021, and September 20, 2021.
- Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (reciprocity fee).
- Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement.
- Have submitted 10 fingerprints (biometrics) to the DOS with a previous visa application.
- Have a prior visa without a “clearance received” annotation.
- Do not have a visa ineligibility requiring a waiver before visa issuance.
- Have an approved and unexpired H-1B petition.
- Were most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status.
- Currently maintain H-1B status in the United States.
- Have a period of authorized admission in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.
Applicants will be processed in the order received. After submitting the DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application form online and paying the non-refundable MRV fee, applicants will receive instructions to send their passports and other required documents to the DOS. The anticipated processing time for a domestic visa renewal application is approximately six to eight weeks from the receipt of necessary documents.
Significance of the Pilot Program:
The launch of this pilot program is a notable development, especially as domestic renewal of nonimmigrant visas has been discontinued by the DOS since 2004. The pilot program addresses concerns related to biometric collection by restricting participation to individuals who have already submitted fingerprints for a previous visa application, are eligible for an in-person interview waiver, and meet other applicable requirements.
The primary goal of the pilot program is to test the DOS’s technical and operational capabilities in resuming domestic visa renewals for specific nonimmigrant classifications. Furthermore, the program aims to assess its effectiveness in reducing global visa wait times by shifting workloads from overseas posts to the United States.
The Garvish Immigration Law Group applauds the introduction of the stateside visa renewal pilot program as a positive step toward streamlining the visa renewal process and reducing wait times. We will continue to monitor developments and provide timely updates to our clients. If you have questions or require assistance with your visa renewal, please do not hesitate to reach out to our knowledgeable team.