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H1B Visa Stamping in USA: Pilot Program Criteria, Dates, Process

Since the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has cleared the rule to run the pilot program for H1B Visa stamping within the US, many of you have been waiting for the official regulation text. Today, the US Department of State has published the regulatory text on the federal register outlining the pilot program details.

This article will review the official regulation and summarize the details, such as the criteria for applying for H1B stamping with the US, how it would work, start dates, and other information, including common FAQs.

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Background: Pilot Program for H1B Stamping in the US

In the past, up until mid-2004, the US Department of State was doing US Visa Stampings within the US for several visa types such as H, L, O, C, E, and P. This was discontinued in June 2004 as the US Visa interview requirements changed with the “Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002“, also called Public Law 107- 173. The main change was capturing biometrics; they had no facilities to do the same back then, hence discontinued.

Since February 2023, there have been discussions around getting the US Visa stamping within the US and resuming the previous program. This was solidified in June 2023, when Whitehouse announced it during the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s visit to the US. The initial scope for the pilot was temporary work visa holders already living in the US.

In October 2023, the official rule titled, “Pilot Program to Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the United States for Certain Qualified Noncitizens”, was submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. It was given clearance by OMB on December 15th, 2023. Today, on December 21st, the US Department of State published the official rule in the Federal Register.

Now, let’s look at the eligibility criteria for participating in the pilot program.

Eligibility Criteria to Apply H1B Stamping in the US as part of Pilot Program

All the applicants planning to apply for domestic H1B Visa renewal as part of the pilot program should meet all the listed 12 criteria below:

  1. Only H1B Applicants: The US Department of State will only accept H1B Visa renewals for the pilot program. No other visas will be processed, including H4 Dependent visas.
  2. Previous H1B Issued in Canada or India: The previous H1B Visa should have been issued by either Mission Canada(US Consulates in Canada) or Mission India(US Consulates in India) within the below dates:
    • H1B Stamped in Canada: From January 1st, 2020 through April 1st, 2023.
    • H1B Stamped in India: From February 1st, 2021 through September 30, 2021.
  3. Must be eligible for a waiver of in-person interview: The applicant should meet all the general requirements to qualify for the interview waiver or Dropbox stamping option. You can check the H1B Visa Dropbox Guide for complete requirements.
  4. Submitted Fingerprints: The applicant should have submitted the ten fingerprints as part of the previous US Visa application. It means the applicant should have given biometrics at a US Consulate or Visa Application Center(VAC) in the past.
  5. No “Clearance Received” Annotation: The applicant should not have the annotation on the previous US Visa that says Clearance Received. You can read full details at: What is Clearance Received or Department Authorization annotation.
  6. Reciprocity Fee: The applicant should not be subject to the non-immigrant visa issuance fee, also called as “reciprocity fee”.
  7. Unexpired H1B Petition: The applicant must have an approved and unexpired H1B Visa petition from USCIS. Technically, they should have an H1B Visa approval notice that is valid.
  8. Admitted on H1B Status: The applicant should have entered the US on H1B Visa status. When you enter the US and go through the US Port of entry procedures, you should have been given H1B Visa Status by the CBP officer.
  9. Maintaining H1B Status: The applicant must have been maintaining H1B Status in the US. It means that the applicant has to be working on an H1B Visa and not have any status violations. Read US Visa vs. Maintaining Status for more info.
  10. H1B Status has not expired: The issued period of authorized admission on H1B Status has not expired. Technically, they mean the Form I-94 issued for your H1B Visa status should be valid and not expired.
  11. Reenter on H1B Status: The applicant needs to intend to re-enter the US in H1B Status after they travel abroad for a short period. Technically, they want to ensure you will be working on an H1B Visa and entering the US on the same visa after your stamping.
  12. No visa ineligibility: The applicant should not have any other issues requiring a waiver before issuing a US Visa. Some applicants may need to get a special waiver before the US consulate can issue visas. Applicants should not have such issues when applying under this pilot program.

Why is the Pilot Program is scope very narrow with so many requirements?

The regulation says that they have limited the scope of the pilot program and added the criteria so that they can adequately assess the performance and capabilities of contractors managing this.

They also did not include H4 Depedents or other visas as it will add additional technical and operational challenges for them, and they will not be able to address them before the pilot launch date. They plan to develop processes for other visa categories in parallel when the pilot program is in progress based on the real time data and feedback of the program.

If you have applied for Domestic US Visa Renewal as part of H1B Pilot program, please add your case details anonymously at Domestic Visa(H1B Pilot) Renewal USA – Tracker. It will give you an idea of the community timelines and help you predict your timelines.

H1B Stamping in the US Pilot Start Date, How Does It Work?

Below are the details on the start date of the pilot program and how it would work:

  • Start Date of Pilot Program: The US Department of State will start accepting applications online for the H1B stamping pilot program from January 29th, 2024.
  • Weekly 4,000 Application Slots: To facilitate and control the number of applications received, they will release 2,000 application slots for applicants who had previous H1B stamping done in Canada every week and 2,000 application slots for applicants who had previous H1B stamping done in India.
  • Dates when the application Slots are released: Below is the list of dates when the US Department of State will release the 4,000 application slots weekly.
    • January 29th, 2024
    • February 5th, 2024
    • February 12th, 2024
    • February 19th, 2024
    • February 26th, 2024
  • Locking of Online Portal: They will count every application received against the weekly 2000 or 4000 limit. If the applications submitted reach the limit, they will lock the online portal. The next set of applications can only be submitted when the portal opens up fresh tranche of slots.
  • End Date for Pilot Program: The pilot program will end when all the 20,000 thousand application slots are filled as per the above dates or on April 1st, 2024, whichever comes first.

Where to apply for Domestic H1B Stamping using the Pilot Program?

To participate in the domestic H1B stamping pilot program, you can complete the application online at the US Department of State web page located at : https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domestic-renewal.html

When applicants go the US Department of State Online webpage, they will be given options to select the location of their previous H1B stamping and will be taken through an assessment wizard to check, if they qualify for the pilot program or not.

During the process, qualified applicants will be given instructions on how to pay the Visa Machine-Readable Visa(MRV) fee, where to send the passport, and other documents.

If the applicant qualifies based on the assessment, then they need to complete Form DS-160 and complete the steps as given by the online system for sending documents, paying MRV fee, etc.

As per them, it is possible that system may not screen out all applicants who do not meet criteria and may be asked to pay fee. In such case, the MRV fee will not be refunded.

Below is a screenshot of how the webpage looks at the US Department of State website, where you can apply for domestic visa renewal for H1B Visas as part of this pilot program. They plan to add more details on this page, as we get closer to the date.

Domestic Visa Renewals for Certain H1B Applicants within the US
Domestic Visa Renewals for Certain H1B Applicants within the US

How will the H1B Stamping Pilot applications be processed?

The online applications will be considered in the order they are received. The online application submission status will be electronic and automated. Below are the steps of application processing

  • Step 1 – Self Assessment: Applicant completes the eligibility self-assessment to check if they qualify for leveraging the domestic H1B stamping pilot program.
  • Step 2 – DS-160, Pay Fee, Send Package: Applicant submits the Form DS-160, pays the non-refundable MRV fee, and gets instructions on how and where to send passport and documents.
  • Step 3 – Initial Sorting, Return: They will initially screen and sort the received application packages from USPS or other courier services and check if the application falls into the pilot program scope. If the application does not meet the requirements, they will return the application package back to the applicant and no refund will be given.
  • Step 4 – Sent for Processing: If the application received meets the requirements for pilot program, they will send the package to a location where authorized State Department Employees will adjudicate the applications.
  • Step 5 – Visa Processing, No expedited process: The application adjudication can take six to eight weeks. They plan to complete all the adjudications by May 1st, 2024. They will not consider any expedited processing requests. The applicant can withdraw if there is a need for urgent travel. If you withdraw the application in the middle, you will be issued a 221g Administrative Processing for your case. No fee will be refunded.
  • Step 6 – Return of Issued Visa and Passport: After the processing, the issued US visa, along with the passport and other documents submitted by the applicant, will be sent using USPS or any other commercial courier.

Required Documents for Domestic H1B Stamping Pilot Program

Below is the list of documents as given by US Department of State for the pilot program

  • Fully completed Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
  • One passport photo, taken within the last six months meeting these specifications
  • Original Passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of application and has a blank page.
  • Original copy of the H1B Approval Notice, Form I-797, Notice of Action
  • The original copy of Form I-94 is from the CBP website.
  • Application Fee: The MRV Fee applicants have to pay is $205 USD. It is non-refundable and non-transferable. It is done as part of the online portal process.

Missing Documents, Corrections for Visa issuance

If there are any documents missing, the applicants will be given a refusal under 221g of the INA and given a chance to send the missing documents or do any corrections to the forms. The deadline for such corrections is by April 15th, 2024.

If they receive the documents or updated information by April 15th, 2024, they will reconsider and adjudicate the visa application as part of the pilot program. The pilot will conclude by May 1st, 2024 and applicants have to send their documents requested by April 15th.

Some of the common issues with applications or requested documents can be such as below:

  • Issues with Form DS-160, not properly completed
  • The photo sent is not meeting the US Dept of State Standards.
  • Proof of the applicant’s residence in the US.

What happens, if my H1B Visa is not issued under this Pilot?

If your H1B Visa stamping application as part of this pilot is not successful and you are not issued a visa, you will be issued a form stating that it was refused under 221g Administrative Processing.

If your H1B Visa is not issued under this pilot, the State Department will not transfer your case to any overseas consulate or your home country consulate. The applicant will need to pursue a new application overseas or home country by completing a new DS-160 form, pay the MRV fee again, and go through the standard in-person application process.

Additional Guidance on Participating in the Pilot Program

  • Applicants using the pilot program do not have to submit evidence of their residence in the US during the submission of the documents for the H1B Visa renewal in the US.
  • Participation in the H1B visa renewal pilot program is voluntary. There is no mandatory requirement forcing you to use this. You can continue to get stamping done at your home country or overseas.
  • If the applicant does not meet the requirements and applies for the H1B renewal using the Pilot program, the fee will not be refunded, and the visa will not be issued. The applicant must again submit new application, pay fees and apply for stamping overseas.

If you have any feedback on the pilot program, you can submit it as part of the public comments period until April 15th, 2024. They can submitted at http://www.regulations.gov under the docket number of DOS-2023-0042 or RIN 1400-AF79

What do you think of the H1B Stamping Pilot Program by the US Deparment of State? Share your thoughts or questions in comments section below.

   

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56 Comments

  1. Hi,
    On the blog you’ve mentioned that the Original Form I797 needs to be sent. But the email I received says,
    “5. Copy of current Form I-797, Notice of Action.

    6. Copy of Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record (available at – https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home or on the Form I-797).”

    It asks to only submit copies. I’m really confused. Can someone please help?

    Reply
    • Zeeshan,
      Just to clarify, it is actually “Copy”. If you read again, it says Original “Copy”.
      You only need to send copies.

      Reply
  2. Hello,

    If the h1b visa is refused in the Domestic VISA pilot project, should the individual leave the US immediately and apply for an H1B Visa in their own country, or can they continue to work in the USA and apply for a US VISA later when they go back to their home country. Can anyone please clarify?

    Reply
  3. Were you most recently admitted to the United States in H-1B status?

    this is the question while I am checking for my eligibility of domestic visa renewal. My VISA is issued on March 2021 and I have entered US on April 2021 and i have been staying here until now

    Reply
  4. Hi,
    Can I apply if my recent visa stamping is in 2023? I qualify for all the criteria points given except for the visa stamping timeframe set for the year 2021 for India.

    Reply
    • Naga,
      They have clearly mentioned the timeframe for someone with India as From February 1st, 2021 through September 30, 2021. You cannot apply. If you do end up applying, they may issue a 221g refusal. It is your discretion.

      Reply
    • Yes, I booked the appointment, follow the below steps,

      1. Login to usvisascheudling com
      2. Submit passport details
      3. Along with India locations it will show Washington dc
      4. Submit details 5. Answer questions
      6. Select US location address as the delivery location
      7. Use an Indian credit card to pay fees which is faster
      8. Select the Washington DC location’s OFC appointment date and time.
      9. On the selected date submit documents to FedEx

      Useful links – https://www.ustraveldocs.com/in/en/renewal-h1b-niv-in-us
      https://www.ustraveldocs.com/in/en/general-information#faqs – Select US Visa Domestic renewal in US

      Reply
  5. I have submitted the DS-160 . But I haven’t received any instructions on MRV payment? Can someone let me know the option to make the payment

    Reply
  6. Hi, I am trying to get my visa stamped under the pilot program and what should be the answer to the below question from DS160?

    Are you applying in the same country or location where the visa above was issued, and is this country or location your place of principal of residence?
    Please do help.
    Thanks

    Reply
  7. Hi,
    There is a U.S. Domestic option to select which fits this pilot program. I think it was configured for this program specifically but need confirmation

    Reply
  8. One of the required documentation is Properly completed DS160. However, the DS160 form doesn’t have Location as “United States” under ‘Select a location where you will be applying for this visa’ list.
    Will the DOS website be updated or the applicant is expected to select the embassy location from where the Prior Visa has been issued? Please advise.

    Reply
  9. Both my wife and I have NIE stamping in the given timeframe from 2021 so we do qualify and both are on H1s.

    However, we are suppose to travel to India from for 2 weeks on Feb 1st.

    My question is say we apply for the stateside renewal on the 29th of Jan, could we then travel and submit our paperwork after coming back from India? Our visas are still valid and we will be re-entering in H1 status.

    Reply
    • Niket,
      Well, you would need to submit passport as part of the process. We do not know at this point, if there is a deadline for that or not. So, it is kind of tricky. I guess need to wait.

      Reply
      • Thanks! Yeah, trying to get clarity on that. We do have dropbox appointments for Feb 5th in India, but based on what I am hearing it’s taking about 3 weeks to get visas issued and we really can’t stay that long in India due to work related reasons!

        Reply
  10. Hello,

    I got a question –

    We have to select the state and country where we are applying for the visa on the DS-160 portal, but since we are applying in USA i don’t see that option. We have to wait for that ?

    Reply
    • Dheeraj,
      Yes, this is an interesting question. I guess we have to wait. Let’s hope they give more details closer to the application date.

      Reply
      • Hi,
        There is a U.S. Domestic option to select which fits this pilot program. I think it was configured for this program specifically but need confirmation

        Reply
  11. Last time i had a dropbox for my h1b extension and i dont think i have given my ten fingerprints. do i still qualify for renewal in pilot program. Note: I am qualifying/eligible for all other criteria mentioned.

    Reply
    • Sandeep,
      Did you give ten fingerprints in the past at least once? Email them once they have the guidance out, so that you can consider applying.

      Reply
  12. H1B Status has not expired: Form I-94 issued for your H1B Visa status should be valid

    I have my i94 admit until date as 09/30/2023 with h1 extension and petition approved till 2026. Am I eligible in this criteria?

    Reply
    • Sandy,
      Your H1B extension should have new I-94 with date until 2026, that should give you valid status until 2026. Check that once.

      Reply
    • Radhe,
      In general, you can continue to stay in the US as long as you are maintaing the status properly. Yes, you would need to get it stamped outside of the country. They would give this details when the visa is refused.

      Reply
  13. H1B Status has not expired: The issued period of authorized admission on H1B Status has not expired. Technically, they mean the Form I-94 issued for your H1B Visa status should be valid and not expired.

    Is it mean ? while entering into US border security issued I-94 should not be expired ? or latest H1b(transfer/extention) I-94 should not not be expired ?

    Reply
    • STR, Your I-94 with H1B approval document (I-797) will be the same as the date CBP officer would print/write on your passport at the time of entry on your return after US consulate in India issued a H1B visa. Even if you had started working for a new employer via H1B transfer, your entry info on passport will not change. Note that CBP who maintains I-94 info based on port of entry will not update I-94 info based on your H1B transfer document info, if you had one.

      It’s interesting to note that time frame for India mission is given as Feb’21 – Sep’21. It was during this time there were travel restrictions placed and not many had travelled to India for stamping. Also, the slots were limited for both dropbox and in-person interview. So, the no.of people who would meet the criteria will be very minimal. With no refund of visa fee, no.of people willing to take risk and forfeit the money would make the application count significantly low.

      Unless you are in urgency and can’t go to India for stamping, it might be a good idea to wait for further instructions as the pilot program gets tuned based on real time feedback.

      Reply
  14. Regarding the requirement that stamping in India needs to be between February 1st, 2021 and September 30, 2021, does this have to be the LAST H1-B stamping or is this ANY stamping? If I’ve had a stamping between these dates and then again at a later date, would I qualify?

    Reply

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