In a significant development, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has launched a pilot program to streamline the issuance of H-1B visa stamps within the United States. Commencing on January 29, 2024, this long-anticipated initiative marks a departure from the traditional process of obtaining H-1B visa stamps at U.S. embassies or consulates abroad.
Who Qualifies for the Pilot Program?
The pilot program is initially open to a limited number of principal H-1B applicants, specifically those whose most recent H-1B visa stamps were issued in India or Canada.
While participation in the program is voluntary, it is exclusive to principal H-1B applicants, and no other visa categories, including H-4 dependents, will be processed.
Key Requirements for Participation:
To be eligible for the pilot program, H-1B principal applicants must meet specific criteria, including:
- Seeking H-1B visa renewal between January 29, 2024, and April 1, 2024.
- Possessing a previous H-1B visa issued by Mission Canada between January 1, 2020, and April 1, 2023, or by Mission India between February 1, 2021, and September 30, 2021.
- Not being subject to a reciprocity fee and qualifying for an in-person interview waiver under Section 222(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
- Having submitted 10 fingerprints to the DOS in connection with a prior visa application.
- Holding an approved and unexpired H-1B petition, being most recently admitted to the U.S. in H-1B status, and currently maintaining H-1B status in the United States.
Application Slots and Dates:
The DOS will release approximately 2,000 application slots each week for those whose most recent H-1B visas were issued by Mission India and Mission Canada.
The application (approximately 4,000 total each week) dates include January 29, February 5, February 12, February 19, and February 26. The pilot program will close on April 1, 2024, or when all slots are filled, whichever comes first.
How to Apply (Online Application for the Pilot):
To participate in the pilot program, applicants must visit the dedicated domestic visa renewal website, where they can select the host-country post of their most recent H-1B visa issuance (Canada or India).
After a self-assessment, qualified applicants will electronically complete and submit Form DS-160, along with instructions for payment of the Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) application processing fee.
Application Processing and Timeline:
DOS will consider applications in the order received, with an expected processing time of 6 to 8 weeks from the date of receiving passports and required documents. Expedited processing is not available.
Applicants may check their application status through the online portal, and the goal is to complete processing by May 1, 2024.
While visa issuance under the pilot program is not guaranteed, applicants must ensure they meet all program requirements. Unqualified applicants may have their applications returned unadjudicated, and the MRV fee will not be refunded.
In case of urgent travel needs, applicants may withdraw their application, but the MRV fee will not be refunded.
Applicants must submit the DS-160 form, one recent photograph, a valid passport, Form I-797 H-1B Notice of Action, and Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record. The $205 non-refundable and non-transferable MRV fee must be paid online.
The initiation of the stateside pilot program represents a significant shift in H-1B visa stamp issuance, offering convenience for eligible applicants. As the program unfolds, participants are encouraged to adhere to the outlined procedures to ensure a smooth and successful application process.
As Luke Bowman Law steps into the forefront of the Stateside Pilot Program, we reaffirm our dedication to delivering efficient and streamlined legal services. We understand the significance of this initiative in reshaping the H-1B visa stamp issuance landscape and are excited to guide our clients through this transformative process.
With Luke Bowman Law by your side, you can navigate the complexities of the Stateside Pilot Program with confidence, knowing that your legal journey is in capable hands.