About 10,000 Indian H-1B visa holders will be able to renew their status without leaving the US between Jan 29 and April 1, according to a notice of the domestic visa renewal pilot program’s reinstatement.
The pilot program which will allow visas to be renewed within the US will initially cover just 20,000 participants — half of which will be from India, according to a notice issued by the Department of State Wednesday.
H-1B visa holders from Canada and India are eligible under the pilot project. These two countries have been chosen as the population of visa applicants in India and Canada is sufficiently representative of the global population.
According to a report released earlier by the US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), of the 441,000 H-1B applications (new visas and renewals) approved during fiscal 2022, nearly 72.6% (320,000) were bagged by Indians. This was followed by China with 55,038 approvals (12.5%). Canada with 4,235 approvals (1%) came third.
According to the notice published in the Federal Register, applicants whose prior H-1B visa, which is being renewed and was issued by Mission India, with an issuance date of Feb. 1, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2021 will be eligible to participate in the pilot.
The notification states that dependent H-4 visa holders (spouse and children of the H-1B visa holder) will not qualify for domestic visa renewals for now, as it creates additional technical and operational challenges that cannot be resolved before the pilot launch date.
“Limiting the pilot to only H-1B principal applicants will also maximize the department’s direct impact on US industry partners, whose H-1B employees may need to travel abroad for work purposes and risk being unable to immediately return if their visa has expired,” the notice states.
The State Department will begin accepting online applications from Jan 29, 2024, against a non-refundable fee of $205 in a staggered manner.
In order to control the number of applications received, the department will each week release approximately 2,000 application slots for applicants whose most recent H-1B visas were issued by Mission Canada, and approximately 2,000 application slots for those whose most recent H-1B visas were issued by Mission India (approximately 4,000 total each week) on the following dates: Jan 29; Feb 5; Feb 12; Feb 19 and Feb 26.
As the State Department does not conduct in-person nonimmigrant visa interviews or collect fingerprints domestically, a key requirement for participation in the pilot is that applicants for domestic visa renewal must qualify for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement under section 222(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and have fingerprints on file with the Department that may be used for biometric vetting.
Just like any individual applying for a nonimmigrant visa overseas, including those whose in-person interview is waived, all applicants for domestic visa renewal must undergo screening and vetting.
With certain exceptions set out in the law, most applicants seeking to renew their H-1B visas, whether overseas or domestically, 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.
Based on statutory requirements for an interview waiver under INA section 222(h)(2), applicants for domestic visa renewal must reside in the United States, according to the notice.
While US visa holders, who renew or change their immigration status from within the US can remain in the country for the duration of their valid visa status, the problem arises when they wish to travel out of the country.
For instance, an H-1B visa holder, who has rushed to deal with an emergency in India, needs to get a visa stamp at the US Embassy and the wait time can run into several weeks or months.
The problem had exacerbated during the pandemic. Several individuals found themselves stranded in India for many months – unable to resume work in the US or join those family members who had stayed behind in the US.
A few days ago, Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State posted on LinkedIn, “When we consider our efforts to modernize the visa process, this may ultimately have the most far-reaching impact. Exciting to see domestic visa renewal on the horizon, after much preparation.
The pilot cleared the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs review on Dec 15, the final regulatory hurdle before publication.
This development comes months after the White House announced a pilot program for domestic renewal of certain categories of H-1B visas during the state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June this year.
The notice can be accessed here: https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2023-28160.pdf