When you apply for a US Visa renewal and you meet certain criteria, you can get it stamped in your passport without attending an in-person visa interview. This kind of visa stamping process is called an ‘Interview Waiver’ option and is popularly called the ‘Dropbox Stamping’. The same interview waiver option is available for H1B Visa renewal as well.
In this article, we will cover the step-by-step process for H1B visa stamping using ‘dropbox’ or the ‘interview waiver’ option. We will cover all areas like dropbox eligibility requirements, booking appointments, documents checklist, how it works with employer change or H1B Visa Transfer situations, and status changes. Also, it will include changes to dropbox requirements in recent times during the pandemic.
The first step to applying for H1B stamping using the interview waiver or dropbox option is to ensure you meet all the general required criteria for a typical interview waiver or dropbox. Let’s look at the eligibility requirements first in the context of an H1B visa.
H1B Visa Dropbox Eligibility Requirements
Below are the general eligibility criteria for getting H1B Visa stamping using dropbox or the interview waiver option. You need to meet all of the below requirements to be eligible for dropbox stamping.
- You should have H1B Visa Stamping done before and have US Visa foil in your passport of type H1B. Dropbox or interview waiver is only possible for H1B Visa Renewal.
- Your H1B Visa was stamped in your passport after Jan 1, 2008
- Your H1B visa stamp in your passport should not have annotations like “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”
- Your H1B visa stamping in passport should be issued after your 14th birthday
- Your H1B visa stamp in your passport was not lost, stolen, or canceled.
- There were no US visa refusals in any other visa class, since your recent H1B visa issuance.
- Your H1B Visa should be valid or have expired within the last 12 months.
- There are some exceptions to 12 months like now during the current pandemic, where the dropbox eligibility is extended to 48 months from expiry. US Dept of State has not given a deadline on when this 48-month from expiry rule will end. So, it is available now.
- In the past, there was a requirement that the applicant’s previous H1B stamping should be from the same country. But, the same country requirement was removed in 2021 due to the pandemic situation as consulates were not fully operational. Check Question 7 below that has an updated screenshot of the question.
Also, if you are over 80 years of age and applying for an H1B Visa renewal, then you need to only meet one condition, which is your most recent US Visa application was not refused.
Dropbox Option for certain First Time H1B Visa Applicants
As US Consulates across the globe are operating in a very limited fashion globally due to the COVID pandemic, starting from Jan 1st, 2022 until December 31st, 2022, the US Department of State has given Dropbox Stamping option for certain first time H1B Visa Applicants, if they meet all the below eligibility criteria.
The applicant need to meet all the below 7 requirements to be eligible for H1B Dropbox as a first time H1B applicant:
- USCIS Approval Notice: You need to have an H1B Visa petition approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS). Basically, this is something that your employer would apply for with USCIS for working in the US before you go for stamping and it is mandatory for stamping.
- Residence Country: You need to be applying for H1B Visa Stamping in your country of Nationality or Residence. For example, if you are an Indian citizen, you can only apply in India or alternatively, if you are an Indian citizen but live in Germany due to work with a proper work visa, then you can apply in Germany as it is your place of residence.
- Previous Approved any US Visa: You need to have any type of US Visa issued (approved) in the past by a US Consulate or Embassy. It does not have to be an H1B Visa Stamp. For example, if you have previously issued B1/B2 or F1 Visa in your passport, then you are eligible.
- No US Visa Refusal: You should have never been refused a US Visa at Visa Stamping. If you had an administrative processing refusal like 221g, then it should have been overcome or waived. You should have not any potential ineligibility aspects on your application (this is not clearly defined by them on what they mean)
- Clearance Received or Department Authorization: Any of your previous US Visa stamps in your passport should not have annotations like “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”.
- US Visa lost or stolen: Your most recent US Visa in your passport was not lost, stolen, or canceled.
- Issued after Jan 1, 2008: Your most recent US Visa was issued after January 1st, 2008
Also, many are confused, about if they need a new H1B Visa stamp after changing employers, let’s look at the details now.
H1B Dropbox Eligibility for Change of Employer
Many H1B applicants, who have done a change of employer or transferred to a new employer assume that they are not eligible for dropbox submission. They are misguided by the fact that their previous H1B visa foil glued in their passport has their previous employer’s name and they may not be eligible for dropbox.
To give you more context, when your H1B Visa was issued by the US Consulate, the H1B Visa foil that was glued in your passport would have the H1B Sponsoring Company name and the petition number details on it under the annotation section, as you can see in below screenshot. Having the previous company name is the cause of the confusion. Many assume that they may not be eligible for H1B Visa using the dropbox option.
The reality is that the employer name on US Visa is only an annotation added for reference of the CBP officer. It has nothing to do with dropbox stamping eligibility. As long as you satisfy all the general eligibility criteria for H1B Visa Dropbox, as listed in the above section, you are eligible for H1B visa stamping using the dropbox option.
Also, to confirm the above, when you fill out the visa details and answer the questionnaire on US Visa CGI Federal Website, you will not be asked for your previous employer information or what your visa stamp annotation says. All they ask for are questions about your visa expiration date and general criteria. That’s another confirmation that you are eligible for dropbox stamping, even if you have done a change of employer using an H1B transfer. Also, to add, we have many users on our blog and social media channels, who have got stamping done after the H1B transfer. So, it is confirmed based on experiences as well.
Now that you understand the general requirements for H1B stamping using dropbox, let’s look at the step-by-step process.
Step by Step Guide to Apply for H1B Visa Dropbox Appointment
The process to apply for H1B Visa stamping using the dropbox or interview waiver option is not very different from the general visa renewal for other types of visas. It is mostly the documents you submit and your eligibility criteria that matter.
For background, you can read How to apply for a US Visa for general guidance on the US Visa stamping process. Let’s look at each of the steps now.
Step 1 – Complete Non-immigrant US Visa Application (DS-160) Form online
You need to complete Online Non-Immigrant US Visa Application and complete all the details related to your current H1B sponsor and previous employment information. You will be asked to select a location for the visa stamping or interview when you start the DS-160 form. Select the best city that you can think of where you would go for stamping. See the below screenshot.
The city you select here does not really matter. It can be different from the city where you actually go for stamping or submitting documents.
DS-160 form is a very lengthy form and asks for a lot of information. It can take time to complete this form. Also, when you submit the DS-160 form, you will get a confirmation number. The DS-160 confirmation number is also the same as the Application ID. You will enter the DS-160 confirmation number or Application ID in the next step during the appointment booking for dropbox stamping.
Step 2 – Create Profile on CGI Federal Website
After you complete the DS-160 form, you need to create a new user profile on CGI Federal Website and complete basic information about yourself.
One thing to note during creating a profile is that you need to select the country where you plan to get your H1B visa renewal. Alternatively, if you go to www.USTravelDocs.com website related to the country, where you plan to get stamping, they will have relevant parameters at the end of the URL that set the country and language automatically. For instance, the URLs would look like the below for India & Germany.
- India: https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/?language=English&country=India
- Germany: https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/?language=English&country=Germany
Step 3 – Complete Visa Type, Personal details, H1B Petition Details, Dependents info
On CGI Federal Website, once you add your basic information, you will need to select “New Appointment / Schedule Appointment” from the menu on the left-hand side. You will be asked a set of questions in a guided wizard format, you need to complete them by selecting the relevant ones as applicable for an H1B visa. The guided wizard looks like in the below section screenshots.
1. Select Nonimmigrant Visa
First, you need to select the visa type either Nonimmigrant or Immigrant. H1B Visa is a Nonimmigrant Visa, you need select that in Step 1 and click on continue. See the below screenshot on how it looks.
2. Select the country and state of residence
You will get an option to select the country or state of your residence. You need to select the right country or country and state combination as per your residence and click on continue. This will be listed as Step 2 in the wizard. See the below screenshot on how it looks
3. Select the Language of the Visa interview, Visa Category, and Visa Class
Next, you need to select the language of the interview that you plan to do if you have to go for an interview. In general, dropbox does not require an interview, but in case, they want to interview you, you need to select that and click on continue. You would see this listed as Step 3 in the wizard as in the below screenshot.
Next, you will be asked to select the Visa Category, which is relevant for H1B Visa. You need to select the option “Employment-based visas” option and click on continue. It will be listed as Step 3 and looks like in the below screenshot.
Next, you need to select the Visa Class, which is H1B Visa. You need to select the option that says “H-1B – Temporary worker in specialty occupation” and then click on continue at the bottom. It looks like in the below screenshot.
You will get a chance to review and confirm the details you have entered until now as a summary. Verify the details and click on continue. It will be listed as Step 6 and looks like in the below screenshot.
4. Enter Your Personal info, Passport details, contact info, mailing address, Petitioner info
After that you will need to complete personal data like passport, address info, contact info, mailing address, DS-160 info, etc. Also, under the “Petitioner” section, you need to enter the USCIS approved H1B visa petition details including the H1B Case Receipt Number on the same page. It looks like in the below screenshot.
5. Add Dependents, Child Details
Once you go past this screen, you will get a chance to add your dependents. This option to add your dependents as applicable, if you are taking your H4 Dependents (spouse and children) for visa stamping along with you. You will need to click on the option that says “Add by Name“ as it looks like in the below screenshot.
If you click on the Add by Name option in the above screenshot, then you will get an option to add the spouse or child-related DS-160 and all their personal details here. It looks like in the below screenshot.
Step 4 – H1B Dropbox Eligibility Check Wizard
In the next step, you will be asked a few questions related to H1B Visa Stamping status to check, if you are eligible for dropbox or not. You need to answer them correctly based on your situation. Below are each of the questions and answers that most of the H1B Visa renewal applicants answer.
Starting from January 1st, 2022, with the new Dropbox Eligibility option for certain first-time H1B Holders, you will see a generic question asking about any US Visa, instead of H1B Visa. This new option is valid until the end of 2022 ( Dec 31st, 2022)
Question 1: “Do you have a previous U.S. visa in any visa class issued?”.
Response: If you had any US Visa issued in the past, you would answer ‘Yes’. This includes H1B Visa as well. See the below screenshot on how it looks on CGI Federal website.
In the past, you would get the question that is tailored to H1B asking about previous H1B visa as in the below screenshot and question 1, but now it does appear now with the new option of Dropbox for certain first time H1B applicants with any US Visa issued in the past. Below is what everyone used to get. for now, the below Question 1 is not relevant until the end of 2022.
Question 1: “Do you have a previous H-1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee)?”.
The below question 2 has also changed with the new interview waiver option for certain new H1B visa interview applicants. The question does not indicate an H1B visa in the question as well.
Question 2: “Was your prior visa annotated ‘Clearance Received’ or ‘Department Authorization’?“.
Response: Check your previous issued US Visa annotations section. This includes H1B Visa as well. If you do not have any annotations in the visa stamp such as ‘Clearance Received’ or ‘Department Authorization’, you would answer ‘No’. See the below screenshot. To know more on this read What is ‘Clearance Received’ or ‘Department Authorization’ annotation?
In the past, the above question used to have the question specific to H1B as in the below screenshot and question. It is not relevant until the end of 2022.
Question 2 : “Was your prior H1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) annotated ‘Clearance Received’ or ‘Department Authorization’?“.
Also, the next question has slightly been modified to fit in the new interview waiver option for certain new H1B visa applicants.
Question 3: “Was your most recent U.S. visa lost or stolen or cancelled?”
Response: If you did not lose your previous US visa from the past, you would answer ‘No’. This also applies to your previous H1-B Visa. See the below screenshot.
In the past, it used to say “in the same class for which you are applying“. Now with the new option for interview waiver, the below question is not relevant until the end of 2022.
Question 3 : “Was your most recent visa (in the same class for which you are applying) lost or stolen or cancelled?”.
The next question has also changed to reflect the new H1B dropbox option for certain new applicants.
Question 4: “Have you ever been refused a U.S. visa before?”.
Response: If you did not get any US visa stamping(including H1B Visa) refused at a consulate before, you would answer ‘No’. This question is related to the US Visa issued at a US consulate or Embassy. This is not related to USCIS petition approval or denial. See the below screenshot.
Below is the previous question that had H1B in the question. The below is not applicable until the end of 2022.
Question 4: “Have you ever been refused a H-1B (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) visa before?”.
The below two questions do not appear now after the new interview waiver option for certain new H1B Visa applicants. The below questions are not relevant until the end of 2022.
Question : “Is your previous H-1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) still valid?“. Response : You should answer ‘Yes’ only if your visa is still valid. In general, most of the cases, for many this would be “No” See below screenshot. If you answered No to the above question 5, you would get the below question 6. If you answered “yes”, you will be skipped directly to next question 7 below. Question : “Did your previous H-1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) expire within the last 48 months? Note: Please be sure to select an interview waiver submission date at least 7 calendar days before your visa has been expired 48 months.” Response : You would answer ‘Yes’ in most of the cases for dropbox eligibility unless your visa has expired before 48 months. See below screenshot.
Question 5: “Was your most recent U.S. visa issued after January 1, 2008? “.
Response: For this, most of them would answer ‘Yes’, unless your visa was issued before Jan 1st, 2008. This includes any of your recent visas, including the H1B Visa. See the below screenshot. Important to note is that the previous visa could have been issued in any other country, does not have to be in the same country that you are attending your dropbox appointment.
Update: In the past, the question used to say “Was your most recent H-1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) issued in <country name> after January 1, 2008? ” The <country name> would be the actual name of the country which you were applying for a visa from. For example, India, if you are applying from any consulate in India. But, this has changed in mid-2021. Now, there is no country restriction as such.
In the past, this question used to have an H1B visa in the question. Now, with the new dropbox option for certain new H1B applicants, it does not have that. The below is not relevant until the end of 2022.
Question: “Was your most recent H-1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) issued after January 1, 2008? “.
Confirmation on H1B Dropbox Eligibility
If you have answered the wizard questions as mentioned above and you are eligible, you will get a confirmation saying that you are eligible for Interview Wavier or Dropbox.
“Congratulations! You qualify for the Interview Waiver. You will need to schedule an appointment to visit the Document Drop-Off locations to submit your documents but do not need to schedule a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate.…”
Depending on the country you are submitting the documents, you will see the country and consulates’ information related to the same on this confirmation. It looks like in the below screenshot. Below is the sample for India. Also, there are some other footnotes that say other services in the country like document pick up / submission info and other details. Read these carefully.
You need to click the “Continue” button at the bottom of the message to proceed with your application.
Step 5: Document Delivery Location, MRV Fee Payment Receipt Number
You will get an option to specify the Document Delivery Option if you would pick up or choose the premium delivery option. Depending on your choice, pick the relevant option and click on continue. It looks like in the below screenshot.
Next, you will get an option to confirm that your visa fees are non-refundable, you need to click on the confirm option as shown in the below screenshot.
Depending on the country, you will get the visa fee payment options. It looks like the below screenshot. If you click on each of them, it will show the details on how to make a payment. You can make a Visa fee payment using that option.
Below are the payment options for Dropbox Stamping in India. For Dropbox stamping in India, you can either use NEFT or IMPS option as listed on the website. If you pay the fee at a bank over the counter at CitiBank, Axis Bank, or DRUK PNB Bank, then you will enter the receipt number in the box.
- MRV Fee Online Payment: Depending on the country you cannot pay using your overseas accounts. You need an India Rupee to account for this.
- MRV Fee Pay at Bank – Cash Payment Advice Slip: You will need to print a cash payment advice slip and that need to be used at the Axis or Citi bank as it has a CGI reference number. It takes about a day after the fee was paid in the bank for it to get activated.
After you make the payment and the receipt is activated, you need to enter the Machine Readable Visa(MRV) Fee payment receipt number. The amount shown will vary by country in local currency. It looks like in the below screenshot for India.
Step 6: Book Appointment for Documents Drop-Off
Using MRV Fee Payment Receipt: After you pay the fee and the MRV fee receipt is activated, when you try to navigate to the visa tab on home, you will get a popup on the payment screens saying a receipt matches and would you like to use that. It looks like in the below screenshot. You can click on use existing receipts, then it takes you to the screen to book an appointment. If not, you can enter the receipt number in the receipt number box and click continue, then it will show the below pop-up.
Schedule OFC Appointment Screen
OFC stands for Offsite Facilitation Center in the US Visa Appointments context.
This screen is one of the most confusing parts for many. The reason is it says “Schedule OFC Appointment” and many think it is for giving your Biometrics (fingerprints, photo). In general, Dropbox stamping does not need Biometrics. So, the appointment you book on this screen is for dropping off your H1B Dropbox Stamping Document and not Biometrics.
Update: Before November 28th, 2021, for dropbox or interview waiver appointments, it used to show “IW” at the end of the consulate name in the dropdown, where you select the interview location. This changed to VAC for dropbox/interview waiver appointments after Nov 28th, 2021. So do not be confused. You can check complete details about this change at US Visa Dropbox / Renewal – VAC vs. IW Confusion, New Change
Even though the text says “Schedule OFC Appointment”, what they mean is the appointment for Dropbox to drop off your documents. It looks like in the below screenshot.
Step 7: Print H1B Dropbox Appointment Confirmation Letter
After you book the dates, you will be navigated further to print the H1B Dropbox Appointment Confirmation Letter. It will usually be 6 pages. The first page would have your details, Appointment details, Document delivery or pickup info, fee information, and DS-160 details.
The second page would have the details of the Dropbox Location and instructions. See the below screenshots. The list of documents to be carried will be given on the rest of the pages by Visa type. Look for the one relevant for H and L Applicants. You can check more at Sample US Visa Dropbox Confirmation Letter India
H1B Dropbox Document Checklist
Below is the list of documents that need to be submitted for H1B Dropbox Submission during the appointment :
- Dropbox Appointment Confirmation Letter
- DS-160 CEAC Confirmation Page
- Passport Photo as per US Visa Photo specifications
- All Original Passports with a previous US Visa ( if you have one, just carry that)
- Your previous US Visa that is valid or expired (it would be in your passport)
- Photocopy of your I-797 Approval Notice (Current & Previous)
- Employment Verification or Confirmation Letter (original or copy)
- (if applicable) End Client Letter. If you work as a consultant for a client, carry the client letter.
- (Optional) Additional I-797 approval notices, if you had any in the middle for transfers. They may or may not take them. You can request and submit to be safe.
- You can check H1B Visa Stamping Document Checklist for full details
H1B Dropbox Document Submission Process
The process to submit documents is pretty straightforward as listed below.
- You need to go to the relevant address of the documents drop-off location that is on the Dropbox Confirmation Letter.
- You need to go only during the appointment date and allowed times to the dropbox location in the appointment confirmation letter. This can vary by location, check the letter.
- They will verify all the documents and then take the listed documents in the above checklist.
- In India, they have changed the dropbox submission process allowing any of the consulates or VAC locations to accept the dropbox submission. Check Can Drop off US Visa Dropbox Documents at any Location now for full info.
- There is no requirement for the actual applicant to submit the documents. The documents can be submitted by a representative on the appointment date and time. The representative need to carry a photo id to submit documents. The appointment letter would have all the details related to the representative submission process.
- Additional instructions like parking and other location-specific info would be listed on the confirmation letter.
- Due to the pandemic, there may be additional checks in place and health checks, so be prepared.
US Visa Status on CEAC Website after Documents Submission
After you submit the documents, you can check US Visa Status Online on the CEAC website. Below is the typical sequence for the change of various statuses.
- ‘No Status’: This status does not appear for everyone, it can appear for a few. If this appears for you, do not worry, within a day or two, it would change to the one of the below status
- ‘Application Received’ Status: You would see the “Application Received” status on the same day or by the next day after submitting documents.
- ‘Administrative Processing’ or ‘Refused’ Status: You may see the status change from ‘Application Received’ to “Administrative Processing” or “Refused” status. Do not panic, if you see these statuses. It does not necessarily mean your visa is refused or going through 221g. They are very common to appear in the middle during visa processing time. You may see these statuses for 3 to 4 days. Some users said they have seen this for a week or 10 days. So, do not panic. Read Why CEAC website shows Refused Status for US Visa?
- “Issued” Status: You will see the status change to “Issued” if your US visa was approved by US Consulate.
- After your passport is in ‘Issued’ status, you can track your passport status on CGI Federal Website. It will show the status of your passport is ready for pickup, and also once you collected your passport. You can collect your passport or it will be delivered to your address if you have picked that option.
H1B Dropbox Stamping Not Approved Situation
If your H1B visa was not approved by the US Consulate for some reason with the dropbox option, then you will be notified that your visa was not approved. The visa status on the CEAC website will continue to show status as “Administrative Processing” or “Refused”.
When you go to collect your documents and passport, they will return everything and also issue a 221(g) Administrative Processing slip that gives instructions on the next steps. Usually, the Consulate would ask you to appear in person on any day by visiting the consulate at a certain time. This can vary due to the COVID situation and they may ask to visit after the regular operations are started for the consulate.
Below is a sample 221g issued by the Consulate for dropbox stamping that was not successful during the pandemic.
Below is sample 221g given at Consulate for H1B Dropbox before pandemic asking to attend the consulate for interview on any day.
Overall, the process to renew an H1B visa, using an interview waiver/ dropbox option, is very straightforward and should not have any complications. Sometimes, even if your application is all good, they may call you for a random interview, so do not panic and handle it with confidence.