When you apply for US Visa renewal and you meet certain criteria, you can get it stamped in passport without attending in-person visa interview. This kind of visa stamping process is called ‘Interview Waiver’ option and popularly called as ‘US Visa Dropbox Stamping’. The same interview waiver option applies to H1B Visa renewal as well. In this article, we will cover step by step process for H1B visa stamping using dropbox or interview waiver option. It will cover all criteria, booking appointment, documents checklist, how it works with employer change or H1B Visa Transfer situations and status changes.
The first step to apply for H1B stamping using interview waiver or dropbox option is to ensure you meet all the general required criteria for typical interview waiver or dropbox. Let’s look at them first in context of H1B visa.
H1B Visa Dropbox Eligibility Requirements
Below are the general eligibility criteria for getting H1B Visa stamping using dropbox or 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 most recent H1B visa stamp should have been issued in the same country where you are planning for dropbox now. For instance, if you are applying for dropbox stamping in India, then your previous H1B visa stamp must have been issued in India as well.
- Your H1B Visa was stamped in your passport after Jan 1, 2008
- Your H1B visa stamp in passport should not have annotations like “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”
- You H1B visa stamping in passport should be issued after your 14th birthday
- Your H1B visa stamp in passport was not lost, stolen or cancelled.
- There were no US visa refusals in any other visa class, since your recent H1B visa issuance.
- Your H1B Visa should be valid or expired within last 12 months. There are some exceptions to 12 months sometimes like during current pandemic, where the dropbox eligibility was extended to 48 months from expiry until Dec 31st, 2021.
Also, if you are over 80 years of age and applying for H1B Visa renewal, then you need to only meet one condition, which is your most recent US Visa application was not refused.
H1B Dropbox Eligibility for Change of Employer
Many H1B applicants, who have done change of employer or transferred to 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 previous employer’s name and they may not be eligible for dropbox.
To give you context, when you get H1B Visa stamping done, the H1B Visa foil that is glued in your passport would have H1B Sponsoring Company name and the petition number details on it under the annotation section as you can see in below screenshot. Having this company name is the cause for confusion that you may not be eligible for H1B Visa using dropbox option.
The reality is that the employer name on US Visa is only an annotation 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 above section, you are eligible for visa stamping using dropbox option.
Also, to confirm the above, when you fill out the visa details and answer questionnaire on US Visa CGI Federal Website , you will not be asked for employer information or what your visa stamp annotation says. All they ask for is questions around your visa expiration date and general criteria. That’s another confirmation that you are eligible for dropbox stamping, even if you have done change of employer or H1B transfer. Also, to add, we have many users on our blog and social media channels, who have got stamping done after 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 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 US Visa for general guidance on US Visa stamping process. Let’s look 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 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 submit 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 DS-160 form, you will get a confirmation number. The DS-160 confirmation number is also same as the Application ID. You will enter the DS-160 confirmation number or Application ID in next step during appointment booking for dropbox.
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 you.
One thing to note during creating profile is that, you need to select the country where you plan to get visa renewal during creation of account. 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 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
On CGI Federal Website, once you add your basic information, you will need to select “New Appointment / Schedule Appointment” from the menu in 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 for H1B visa, it will look like below
After that you will need to complete personal data like passport, address info, etc. Also, you need to enter the H1B visa petition details including H1B Case Receipt Number on the same page. It looks like in below screenshot.
Once you go past this screen, you will get a chance to add your dependents. This option to add your dependents is applicable, if you are taking your H4 Dependents (spouse and children) for visa stamping along with you. You can add the spouse and child related DS-160 and all their personal details here. You need to click on button “Add By Name”. It looks like in below screenshot.
Step 4 – H1B Dropbox Eligibility Check Wizard
In the next step, you will be asked 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.
Question 1 : “Do you have a previous H-1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee)?”.
Response: If it is your renewal stamping, you would answer ‘Yes’. See below screenshot how it looks on CGI Federal website.
Question 2 : “Was your prior H1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) annotated ‘Clearance Received’ or ‘Department Authorization’?“.
Response: If you do not have any complications with annotations in visa stamp, you would answer ‘No’. See below screenshot.
Question 3 : “Was your most recent visa (in the same class for which you are applying) lost or stolen or cancelled?”.
Response : If you did not lose your H1B visa from past, you would answer ‘No’. See below screenshot.
Question 4 : “Have you ever been refused a H-1B (temporary occupation, temporary worker or trainee) visa before?”.
Response : If you did not get H1B visa refusal at a consulate before, you would answer ‘No’. It does not matter, if your H1B petition was denied at USCIS before. This question is regarding the Visa stamping at Consulate. See below screenshot.
Question 5 : “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 6 : “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 7 : “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 where you are applying visa from. For example, India, if you are applying from any consulate in India.
Response: For this, most of them would answer ‘Yes’, unless your visa was issued before Jan 1st, 2008 and in the same country as you are applying. See below screenshot.
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 cities and consulates information related to the same. It looks like in below screenshot. Below is for India, so you see Indian cities in there.
You need to click “Continue” to proceed with your application.
Step 5 : Document Delivery Location, MRV Fee Payment Receipt Number
In the next couple of steps, you need to select the document delivery or pick up location and then need to enter the Machine Readable Visa(MRV) Fee payment receipt. The amount shown will vary by country in local currency. It looks like in below screenshot for India.
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 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 CountryYou cannot pay using your overseas accounts. You need an India Rupee 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 bank for it to get activated.
Step 6 : Book Appointment for Documents Drop-Off
Once you pay the fee and 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. You can say use existing receipts, then it takes you to the screen to book appointment
Schedule OFC Appointment Screen
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 Biometrics. 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.
Even though the text says “Schedule OFC Appointment”, what they mean is appointment for Dropbox to drop-off your documents. One way to easily distinguish is you would see letters “IW” at the end of the city name in dropdown above dates, which means “Interview Waiver”. See below screenshot
If the screen is for Biometrics appointment, you would see the letters “VAC” at the end of the city name, which stand for “Visa Application Center”. See below screenshot to understand the difference.
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. Second page would have the details of the Dropbox Location and instructions. See below screenshots. The list of documents to be carried will be given in 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 are the list of documents that need to be submitted for H1B Dropbox Submission during the appointment :
- Dropbox Appointment Confirmation Letter
- I-797 Approval Notice Copies (Current & Previous)
- DS-160 Confirmation Page
- Original Passport
- Passport Photo as per US Visa Photo specifications
- Employment Verification Letter (They may only take copy, so carry copy of the letter)
- (Optional) Client Letter. Usually, they do not take client letters as it is not required. But if you insist, they take it. Some users said that they explained 221g situations without client letter and submitted it as part of dropbox.
- (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.
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 time to the dropbox location in appointment confirmation letter. This can vary by location, check the letter.
- They will verify all the documents and then take the listed documents in above checklist.
- 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 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 pandemic, there maybe 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 CEAC website. Below is the typical sequence for change of statuses.
- ‘Application Received’ Status : You would see the “Application Received” status on the same day or by 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. For some users, 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 status, if passport is ready for pickup and once you collected 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 visa was not approved by Consulate for some reason with the Dropbox Option, then you will be notified that your visa was not approved. The visa status on CEAC website will continue 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 next steps. Usually, the Consulate would ask you to appear in person on any day by visiting the consulate in certain time. This can vary due to the COVID situation and they may ask to visit after the regular operations are started for consulate.
Below is a sample 221g issued by the Consulate for dropbox stamping that was not successful during 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 H1B visa using interview waiver or dropbox option is very straightforward and should not have any complications. Sometimes, even if your application is all good, they may call you for random interview, so do not panic and handle it with confidence.