As outlined in an earlier Immigration Insights & Issues blog post, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) posted a proposal to resume the renewal of limited visas in the U.S. after almost 20 years via a pilot program. Finally, on December 21, 2023, the requirements for the pilot program were announced by DOS.
What are the benefits of a stateside/domestic visa renewal?
The big benefits are the ability to renew a nonimmigrant visa allowing international travel to the U.S. without going to a U.S. consular post or embassy abroad with its attendant delays in appointment availability and uncertain administrative processing timing.
For background, the issuance of a visa by a consular post or embassy is the ticket to present for admission to the U.S.. In contrast, the I-94 admission record issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the period of stay allowed in the U.S. using the visa. The validity of a visa for admission to the U.S. is a uniform requirement for international travel, except when visa revalidation for trips of no more than 30 days to Canada or Mexico by a nonimmigrant is an option, for example.
When can I apply for Domestic Visa Renewal under the Pilot?
From January 29, 2024 to April 1, 2024.
How many Domestic Visa Renewal Slots will be available?
20,000. Each week, DOS will release approximately 2,000 application slots for applicants whose most recent H–1B visas were issued by U.S. consular posts in Canada and approximately 2,000 application slots for those whose most recent H–1B visas were issued by U.S. consular posts in India (approximately 4,000 total each week). The visa slots will be released on the following dates:
- January 29,
- February 5,
- February 12,
- February 19, and
- February 26.
Once the weekly limit is reached, the online portal locks down until the next group of slots is released. Applicants not selected may apply on any of the remaining application dates. The application period will end on April 1, 2024, unless all slots are filed earlier. So, the selection is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
How can I apply?
Applicants apply online using the application portal at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domestic-renewal.html . The link is not yet active to apply.
Applicants who log on to the site will use a navigator tool to determine if they are eligible to apply for their H-1B visa renewal. Then, qualified applicants will complete the DS-160 application online and submit it. https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/
Next, qualified applicants will pay the non-refundable, non-transferable Machine Readable Visa (MRV) application fee, which is currently $205.00, based on instructions received, and they will mail their passport and required documents as instructed. It is possible that the screening will not catch an unqualified applicant. If this happens, the MRV will not be refunded, and the application will be returned unadjudicated.
Who may use the Domestic Visa Renewal Pilot?
Applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Seek to renew your H-1B visa during pilot phase. (NO H-4 DEPENDENTS)
- Prior H-1B visa requested for renewal was issued at a U.S. consular post in India or Canada. Of course, that means that most applicants will be Canadian or Indian nationals, but it could also apply to third-country nationals (TCNs) who applied for their H-1B visas in India or Canada.
- H-1B visa was issued from January 1, 2020 through April 1, 2023 by U.S. consular post in Canada or the H-1B was issued from February 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 in India by a U.S. consular post.
- No reciprocity fee applies for issuance of the H-1B visa. See my prior blog noted above as to countries with no H-1B visa issuance fees in the reciprocity schedule.
- Previously provided ten fingerprints to DOS with a previous visa application.
- Eligible for in-person interview waiver. (Visa issued in prior 48 months in the same )
- No “clearance received” annotation on prior H-1B visa.
- Have approved and unexpired H-1B I-129 petition.
- Most recent admission to U.S. was in H-1B status.
- Maintaining H-1B status currently in U.S.
- I-94 admission record in H-1B status has not expired.
- Intends to return to the U.S. in H-1B status after a temporary visit abroad.
How are Applications for Domestic Visa Renewal Processed upon receipt
The average processing time will be 6 to 8 weeks from the time the passport and required documents are received by DOS. DOS plans to complete all applications for review by no later than May 1, 2024.
Non-automated case status reports about processing from DOS will not be available. The automated reports available online only address the return of the application, visa issuance, or visa refusal. https://ceac.state.gov/CEACStatTracker/Status.aspx No expedited requests will be considered.
Withdrawal of Pending Renewal Applications?
If an applicant for domestic visa renewal must travel urgently, the applicant may withdraw their application and request the return of their passport through the online portal. N.B., that if the application is withdrawn before adjudication, a refusal under §221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended (INA) will be entered. This entry will not prejudice future visa applications. The MRV fee will not be refunded.
Required Documentation for Domestic Visa Renewal Pilot.
- A properly completed and electronically filed DS–160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. https://ceac.state.gov/GenNIV/Default.aspx
- One photograph (taken within the last six months), which meets the specifications at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/photos.html .
- A passport valid for travel to the U.S., which is valid for at least six months beyond the visa application date, and contains a blank, unmarked page for placement of a visa foil.
- The original or a copy of the Applicant’s current Form I–797, Notice of Action.
- The original or a copy of the Applicant’s Form I–94, Arrival- Departure Record (available at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home or on the Form I–797).
- $205 MRV fee. Fee payment may only be made using a major debit or credit card.
Document Return under Domestic Visa Renewal Pilot.
- Passports and documents are returned via U.S. Postal Service or Commercial Courier. Not sure if this means DOS will use pre-paid express mail envelopes.
- Visa approval/issuance IS NOT an extension of legal status or a guarantee of admission to the U.S.
Will Applicants be given a chance to submit missing information?
The application will be refused under INA §221(g) for missing information, but the applicant will be given instructions to provide missing information by April 15, 2024 to overcome a refusal due to missing information. No additional MRV fee will be required for applicants instructed to provide missing information or to correct minor errors.
Of course, the pilot concludes on May 1, 2024, and any refusal due to missing documents must be overcome before that date, or the application is refused.
Applications received from Applicants who do not qualify for the domestic visa renewal pilot will be returned and the MRV fee will not be refunded. In addition, the application will not be transferred to an overseas embassy or consulate. Future visa applications at a U.S. overseas embassy or consulate will require a new DS-160 and MRV fee.
What are examples of expected common missing information in the applications?
- Properly completed DS-160.
- Photographs meeting DOS requirements.
- Evidence of presence of applicant in U.S.
What categories might the Domestic Visa Renewal program be expanded to include?
Based on the Executive Order issued on October 10, 2023, by April 27, 2024, we might see the Secretary of State issue a rulemaking to expand the categories of nonimmigrants eligible for the domestic visa renewal program to include academic J-1 research scholars and F-1 students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In addition, by February 27, 2024, the Secretary of State may consider expanding the program to facilitate the ability of qualified applicants, including highly skilled talent in Artificial Intelligence and critical and emerging technologies, to continue their work in the U.S. without unnecessary interruption. Earlier, we had expected L-1 nonimmigrants to be included after the official state visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi to the U.S. in June of last year.
Visa Appointment Backlog Relief
Visa Appointment Backlogs and Extension of 48-Month Interview Waiver Policy
On a different note as to types of relief regarding appointment delays at U.S. consular posts, the U.S. Secretary of State and the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed to allow consular officers to waive in-person visa interviews for the following nonimmigrants commencing on January 1, 2024:
- First time H-2A (agriculture) and H-2B (non-agriculture).
- Nonimmigrants who previously issued their visas in the same classification (excluding B visitors) are applying for new visas within 48 months of the expiration of the prior nonimmigrant visas.
The DOS has relied heavily on interview waivers during and after the pandemic. Modified versions of the 48-month visa renewal policy were announced in 2022, 2021, and 2020. The changes started with an expansion of the interview waiver option for renewal applications from 12 to 24 months and then to 48 months for various designated categories of nonimmigrant visa renewals. It is a relief to see the practice continue and expand.
About the Author:
Kathleen Campbell Walker is chair of the Immigration Practice Group, based in El Paso, Texas. She is a past president (2007) and general counsel (2009) of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). She began practicing immigration law in 1986. In 2014, Ms. Walker received the AILA Founder’s Award, given occasionally to the person or entity having the most substantial impact on immigration law or policy. She is board certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. In addition, she is recognized in Chambers USA (Band One), Chambers Global (Band One), International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers, Super Lawyers, and Best Lawyers in America. She is rated AV® Preeminent™ in Martindale-Hubbell®. She can be reached at 915-541-9360 or email@example.com, and her biography can be accessed here.
 See 22 CFR §41.112(d)