January 05, 2024
Stateside Visa Processing is Back, Here’s What You Need to Know
Throughout 2023, the Department of State (DOS) provided notice that the agency was preparing to implement a pilot program to reintroduce stateside visa processing. Stateside visa processing allows foreign nationals to submit a passport for U.S. visa stamping from within the U.S., without having to depart the country and apply for visa stamping at a U.S. consulate abroad. The immigration community has been highly anticipating an official announcement. On December 21, DOS officially provided the parameters of the pilot program and clarified who is eligible to receive a stateside visa.
Eligibility is limited to those persons who are in H-1B status, have a prior H-1B visa (and are thus eligible for a visa interview waiver), and received their visa during a specific time frame from either Mission Canada or Mission India. The full eligibility requirements are listed below:
- Are seeking to renew an H–1B visa; during the pilot phase, the Department will not process any other visa classifications;
DOS is still ramping up training and resources to provide this service and has limited the visa type in the pilot phase to H-1B only. H-4 dependents are not eligible for the pilot stateside visa renewal program. Limiting the program to H-1B will assist employers whose H-1B employees may need to travel abroad for business related reasons and would otherwise risk delayed return to the workforce due to visa processing abroad.
- Prior H–1B visa issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
Any issuing Embassy or Consulate in India or Canada is eligible. You can find the issuing post name in the top left corner of the visa as indicated in the below visa sample.
Your visa issuance date can be found at the center of the visa foil as indicated in the below visa sample.
- Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (Note: this is commonly referred to as a ‘‘reciprocity fee’’);
- Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;
The stateside visa renewal program does not conduct in-person interviews or collect fingerprints, so you must be eligible for an interview waiver and have fingerprints on file. Stateside visa applicants will still undergo the customary screening and vetting. Most applicants seeking to renew their H-1B visas within 48 months of the expiration of their prior visa in the same classification will be eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement.
- Have submitted ten fingerprints to the Department in connection with a previous visa application;
- Prior visa does not include a ‘‘clearance received’’ annotation;
If you require department clearance, you are not eligible for a visa interview waiver and thus ineligible for a stateside visa renewal.
- Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
This may include any periods of unauthorized stay or employment in the US that may make you ineligible for a visa abroad and would require a waiver of the prior unauthorized stay or unauthorized employment.
- Have an approved and unexpired H–1B petition;
You will need your I-797 H-1B Approval notice indicating that you have current H-1B status, and it is not expired.
- Were most recently admitted to the United States in H–1B status;
Your I-94 will show your status when you were last admitted to the US.
- Are currently maintaining H–1B status in the United States;
- Period of authorized admission in H–1B status has not expired; and
- Intend to reenter the United States in H–1B status after a temporary period abroad.
Procedures for Participation
The application period begins January 29, 2024. DOS will release batches of 4,000 visas every week through February (about 2,000 for previous visas issued from Mission Canada and 2,000 for previous visas issued from Mission India). Once the limit has been reached, the online portal will lock until the next batch of visa slots are released. The application period will close when all available slots are filled or April 1, 2024, whichever comes first.
If you are eligible, you may apply through this website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domestic-renewal.html. There will be a navigator tool that assesses eligibility to participate in the program. After completion, qualified applicants will then complete the DS-160. We recommend that you prepare answers for the DS-160 prior to entering the portal as most Department of State forms are timed and will time out if you spend too long on any one page. Once the online application is completed, you will receive instructions on how to mail your passport to the appropriate office for visa stamping. You will be required to submit the following documents, in addition to your passport (with at least 6 months of validity remaining), for visa processing: DS-160 confirmation barcode page, one passport style photograph, Form I-797 H-1B approval notice, and Form I-94. You will also be required to pay the $205 MRV fee.
Processing of the visas will be on a first come first serve basis. DOS expects to complete processing within 6-8 weeks of receipt of the initial application. The agency will not consider requests for expedited processing. If you have urgent travel, DOS recommends applying for a visa abroad. If you have already applied for a stateside visa and learn of urgent travel, you may request return of your passport and will need to re-apply for a visa abroad.
Once issued, the visa, passport, and other documents will be returned via US Mail or Courier. The visa itself does not grant nonimmigrant status, is not an extension of status, and is not an admission to the US. The visa only permits those who are abroad to seek admission to the US in a specific status, in this case H-1B.
The DOS will return out of scope cases and may refuse to issue a visa if a person is deemed ineligible for the program or for a visa. If a document is missing, you will have the opportunity to correct the record prior to the visa being refused or fully rejected.
This is an exciting opportunity for many nonimmigrants who have faced long visa wait times abroad and uncertainty surrounding travel. Should you fall within the criteria for eligibility, we encourage you to submit your application. If you have any questions about the process, please contact Brelje & Bus Immigration Law for a consultation.