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On December 21, 2023, the Department of State finally announced the launch of its Stateside Renewal Visa Program. With this program, a limited number of H-1B status and visa holders can renew their visas within the United States without having to travel outside of the United States.

At this time, the pilot program is available only to H-1B visa renewals for individuals who previously applied for their H-1B visa in India and Canada. The pilot program will be limited to 20,000 total people.  Applications will be accepted on 5 different dates with up to 2,000 from each nationality accepted on each date.

The pilot program will begin accepting online applications on January 29, 2024, with the release of 2,000 application slots per country (Canada or India). Once 2,000 applications are received per country, the portal will lock and individuals will need to wait for the next release date.

The portal will open, and the 2,000 slots will be released on the following dates:
* January 29
* February 5
* February 12
* February 19
* February 26

The pilot program will continue to accept the online applications until the 20,000 total slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever occurs first.

Applicants will be prompted to answer a questionnaire to help applicants determine whether they meet the following eligibility criteria for the pilot program, as stated in the Federal Register:

1. Are seeking to renew an H-1B visa;
2. Prior H-1B visa that is being renewed was issued by:

a.  Mission Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or

b.  Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;

3. Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee, commonly called “Reciprocity Fee;”
4. Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;
5. Have submitted ten fingerprints to the Department in connection with a previous visa application;
6. Prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
7. Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
8. Have an approved and unexpired H-1B petition;
9. Were most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status;
10. Are currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States;
11. Period of authorized admission in H-1B status has not expired; and
12. Intend to reenter the United States in H-1B status after a temporary period abroad.

While many of these criteria are mandatory per statute or regulations, some are discretionary to naturally limit the number of applicants, such as only applying to individuals who received a visa from Canada and India, limiting the dates of when the prior visa was issued, and limiting the types of cases to H-1B renewals.

Importantly, while the principal H-1B applicant who was previously issued a visa could qualify for this process, the H-4 dependents of that applicant do NOT qualify.

In addition, one eligibility criteria is that the applicant must qualify for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement as codified under INA § 222(h) and further explained under 9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(1). Among other things, eligibility for the interview waiver is limited to individuals who apply for renewal within 48 months of the expiration of their prior visa in the same classification and who are living within the United States.

If an applicant chooses to apply for the visa under this pilot program and is denied or found ineligible, the Federal Register specifically states that the “[f]ees will not be refunded and these applicants must submit a new application, pay the associated fee, and apply overseas where they have a residence or are physically present…” As such, the questionnaire mentioned above to help an applicant assess eligibility is NOT fool-proof and an application could be submitted by an individual even though not eligible. In this case, the fees paid are not refundable.

If applying for the pilot program, individuals must still complete the DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application and pay the required non-refundable Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) processing fee. The Department of State anticipates that the average processing time will be 6 to 8 weeks from the time all documents are received, with the goal that all applications are processed no later than May 1, 2024.

To learn more about this pilot program and whether you may be eligible, please contact Kolko & Casey, P.C. Our attorneys would be glad to assist you with your application and determine your eligibility.

Bon voyage and buena suerte! Senior Partner David ...

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Kolko & Casey, P.C. is a full service immigration and naturalization law firm providing professional legal services to individuals and businesses throughout Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, the United States, and the World. Our professional staff speaks English, Spanish, Korean, and Portuguese and we can arrange for translators in any other language.