Updated on 01.02.2024

Pilot program for the extension of H-1B visas in the USA

The U.S. Department of State's new pilot program allows certain H-1B visa holders to conveniently renew their visas directly in the US. The time-limited test run started on January 29, 2024 and offers a time-saving alternative to the US consular process in the home country.
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Bild von einer USA-Flagge mit Bauhelm und Handschuhen

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.

Background to the H-1B Renewal Program

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.

Who qualifies?

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

  • The previous H-1B visa to be extended was issued either by a U.S. consulate in Canada with an issue date of January 01, 2020 - April 01, 2023 or by a US consulate in India with an issue date of February 01, 2021 - September 30, 2021.
  • Applicants who do not have to pay the reciprocity fee
  • Applicants must generally qualify for the Interview Waiver Program (i.e. the H-1B visa extension without an interview).
  • Applicants must have already submitted 10 fingerprints in a previous visa application process at a US consulate (i.e. have already been interviewed in person once).
  • The previous H-1B visa must not have the annotation "Clearance received".
  • Applicants must not have any so-called "inadmissibility grounds" such as a criminal record or immigration law violations.
  • Applicants must have last entered the US on an H-1B visa and have been granted H-1B status at the border.
  • Applicants must be currently residing in the U.S. under a valid H-1B status.
  • Applicants have an approved and still valid H-1B petition (I-797 Approval Notice).
  • Applicants must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the visa application date and still contains a free page (for the new visa).
  • Applicants who are nationals of VWP countries whose last ESTA authorization was approved, if applied for (or in case of ESTA refusal, whose non-immigrant visa application was subsequently approved).
  • Applicants intend to re-enter the United States after a temporary stay abroad in H-1B status.


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.

When can qualified applicants participate in the program?

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:

  • January 29
  • February 5
  • February 12
  • February 19
  • February 26

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.

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How does the H-1B visa renewal process work in the USA?

H-1B visa renewal is done in the following steps:

  1. Applicants can use the Online Navigators to check whether they qualify for the pilot program in principle (as mentioned, this program cannot screen out all "non-qualifying" applicants in advance).
  2. If people qualify, they will be shown appropriate links at the end of the Navigator process, which they can use to complete the rest of the process (online profiles Canada/India).
  3. The DS-160 online form including a digital passport photo must be transferred. Selected "U.S. - Domestic" as the "Location".
  4. An online profile can then be created using the links provided in the online Naviagor. This can also be used to pay the non-refundable application fee of 205 US dollars.
  5. You will then be informed to which US address the passport and the H-1B visa extension application package must be sent for further processing.

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.

Which documents must be submitted by post?

  • Valid passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of the actual visa application and still contains at least one blank page
  • old passport that still contains a valid (last) H-1B visa
  • Barcode sheet of the online transmitted DS-160 Application form
  • Original passport photo (5 x 5 cm, biometric, not older than 6 months) - as required by the US authorities
  • Proof of the application fee paid in the amount of US$ 205 or Interview Waiver Letter
  • Original or copy of the current, still valid I-797 Approval Notice (USCIS)
  • Original or copy of the current, still valid I-94 form

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.


Updated on 01.02.2024