New H-1B Renewal Pilot: More Details Released

The State Department has officially outlined the parameters and procedures for its highly anticipated pilot program aimed at renewing H-1B visas in the United States. Beginning January 29, 2024, eligible individuals can initiate the application process through the Department’s dedicated web portal. To maintain the program’s scale within the prescribed 20,000 limit, only applicants with H-1B visas issued during specific time frames at U.S. consulates in Canada and India qualify. Notably, the pilot excludes dependents of H-1B professionals, focusing solely on principal H-1B visa holders.

In its Federal Register notice dated December 21, 2023, the State Department outlined a key criterion for participation in the visa renewal pilot program: “Prior H-1B 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 30, 2021.”

The Department also specified additional eligibility requirements for participation in the pilot:

  • Only current H-1B visa holders, with “an approved and unexpired H-1B petition . . . most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status, currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States [with a] period of authorized admission in H-1B status not expired and intend to reenter the United States in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.”
  • Individuals not subject to a reciprocity fee.
  • In-person interview can be waived.
  • Individual submitted fingerprints with previous visa application
  • Current visa is not annotated with “clearance received.”
  • No visa ineligibility that requires a waiver.

The Federal Register notice says that applications will be processed in the order they are received. The State Department will commence accepting applications on its website from January 29, 2024. On a weekly basis, approximately 2,000 application slots will be released for individuals whose most recent H-1B visas were issued by Mission Canada or Mission India, totaling around 4,000 slots each week. The release dates are set for January 29, February 5, February 12, February 19, and February 26.

Once the limit of 2,000 applications is reached for each participating mission, the online portal will be temporarily closed until the next tranche of slots is released on the subsequent application date. The pilot program is scheduled to conclude on April 1, 2024, or when all application slots are filled.

Required documents for the application include a photograph, valid passport, completed and electronically filed DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, the original or a copy of the applicant’s current Form I-797 Notice of Action, and the original or a copy of the applicant’s Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record.

The non-refundable fee for the application is $205, and processing times are estimated to average six to eight weeks from the receipt of required documents. Expedited processing will not be available through the pilot program.

The report highlights that in 2004, a few years after the enactment of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, the State Department ceased visa renewals in the U.S., citing the legislation’s biometrics requirements. Although the pilot program allows many H-1B employees to renew their visas without leaving the U.S., the exclusion of spouses and children has disappointed businesses. Following the conclusion of the initial pilot phase, businesses and their employees are optimistic that the State Department will expand the domestic visa renewal program to include dependents and more visa categories.

You can find the original State Department Federal Register Notice here:

If you have any questions, please contact your immigration attorney.

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