The US Department of State last week released details on a proposed pilot program testing the agency’s ability to resume domestic visa renewals for H-1B visas and to study the effect the program has on reducing visa wait times worldwide. It will allow certain H-1B visa holders to receive an H-1B visa stamp in their valid passport in lieu of applying for the visa stamp at a US consulate or embassy abroad.
H-1Bs are temporary, nonimmigrant visas for foreign workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, and they often go to technology workers.
The program will begin on Jan. 29 and end on April 1. It is available to applicants who are renewing an H-1B visa issued by Mission Canada between Jan. 1, 2020, and April 1, 2023, or by Mission India between Feb. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2021.
Mail-in visa revalidation was routinely available prior to Sept. 11, 2001; however, that program ended in 2004 due to security enhancements in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a blog post by law firm Harris Beach PLLC. Stateside visa revalidation is now being reintroduced as a way to reduce lengthy visa appointment wait times following consular closures during the coronavirus pandemic.
The pilot program will allow certain qualified individuals in H-1B status to receive an H-1B visa stamp in their valid passport in lieu of applying for the visa stamp at a US consulate or embassy abroad, The National Law Review reported. The program will be open to an initial 20,000 H-1B visa applicants.
The DOS plans to release, on a first-come, first-served basis, approximately 2,000 application slots each week for applicants whose most recent H-1B visa was issued by Mission Canada and approximately 2,000 application slots for those whose most recent H-1B visa was issued by Mission India. Once the weekly limits are reached for each mission, the online application portal will be locked until the following week. The application process will close when all slots are filled, or on April 1, 2024, whichever is sooner. Participation is voluntary and limited to principal H-1B applicants who(se):
- Are seeking to renew an H-1B visa during the pilot phase between Jan. 29 and April 1, 2024;
- Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance (reciprocity) fee;
- Are eligible for an in-person interview waiver (otherwise known as “dropbox”);
- Have submitted 10 fingerprints to the DOS in connection with the prior visa application;
- Prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
- Have no visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to issuance;
- Have an approved and unexpired H-1B petition, most recently admitted to the US in H-1B status and are maintaining H-1B status in the US (Individuals admitted pursuant to Advance Parole would not qualify for the pilot program);
- Period of authorized admission in H-1B status has not expired; and
- Intend to reenter the US in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.