Updated on 01.02.2024
The U.S. Department of State's pilot program for the H-1B visa has been launched.
Under the official title: "Pilot Program to Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the United States for Certain Qualified Noncitizens", the program enables certain individuals to renew their US visas directly in the USA without having to visit a US consulate outside the USA.
The program is limited in advance to H-1B Visa holders who need to renew their visas and also here to a narrowly limited group of persons; other visa categories or H-1B initial visa application procedures are excluded for the time being.
Last year, the U.S. Department of State announced the implementation of a pilot program to enable certain visa holders to renew their visas without an interview within the USA. To date, US visas can only be applied for or renewed at US consulates worldwide outside the United States.
The vast majority of US consulates worldwide have returned to regular operations after the pandemic, i.e. they have been able to bring the sometimes very long waiting times for interview appointments and long processing times back to pre-pandemic levels. In some US consulates, however, there is still an extremely tense appointment situation, sometimes with months of waiting for a free appointment at the consulate.
With the introduction of the pilot program, the aim is to further reduce the burden and ease the situation. And at the same time make it even easier for applicants to renew their visas. Until now, renewing a visa has always involved traveling outside the USA and submitting an application there.
In an initial test phase, starting from January 29 to April 1, 2024, the following persons can participate in the program if they meet all of the following criteria
Applicants who do not meet the program requirements will not be able to participate and would need to renew an H-1B visa at U.S. consulates abroad (as before). Participation in the program is, of course, voluntary; other visa categories, including accompanying family members with an H-4 visa, do not qualify for the program.
Important: The DOS navigation tool used during the application process is not able to screen out all unqualified applicants in advance. If an application is submitted anyway, the corresponding processing fee will not be refunded. The H-1B visa must then be renewed outside the USA.
Applicants also have the option of using the H-1B Domestic Renewal Pilot Program Navigator to check in advance whether they qualify for the program, although even here no 100% reliable information can be expected.
In the first test phase, a maximum of 20,000 H-1B visa extension applications will be processed by the U.S. Department of State within the USA. The application period begins on January 29, 2024 and ends when the maximum number of applications is reached, but no later than April 1, 2024.
In order to better control the number of applications received, the application period has been further divided into specific time slots. Each week, approximately 2,000 application slots are released for applicants whose last H-1B visa was issued by US consulates in Canada, and an additional 2,000 application slots are released for applicants whose last H-1B visa was issued in India (i.e. a total of approximately 4,000 per week) on the following dates:
When the weekly maximum limit is reached, the online portal is blocked until the next slots are released the following week. Applications are processed on a "first received, deadline processed" basis. Applicants who were unable to apply in a particular time slot can try to apply in the next time slot.
H-1B visa renewal is done in the following steps:
If the application is approved, the passport with the new H-1B visa will be sent to the applicant. The U.S. Department of State is currently expecting a processing time of 6-8 weeks, but is trying to have all applications processed by 01 May 2024 at the latest.
Further proof is not initially required, e.g. copy of employment contract, copy of US rental agreement, etc. These can be requested subsequently by the US authorities if required.
If the application is approved, the passport with the newly issued H-1B visa and the other documents submitted by the applicant will be returned via the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) or a commercial courier service.
Important: The extension or reissuance of the H-1B visa does not include an extension of the work permit (I-797 Approval Notice) nor the H-1B residence status (I-94) in the USA. If the application is rejected, this is considered a visa refusal. The application must or can then only be resubmitted outside the USA at a US consulate.
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