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| 3 minutes read

Domestic Visa Processing is Back!

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is launching a pilot program to allow select H-1B employees to file for renewed visas from within the United States without having to attend an appointment at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The DOS previously allowed visa renewals from within the U.S. but discontinued that program in 2004 when new laws required U.S. issued visas to include biometric identifiers, and it was unable to collect fingerprints in the United States. One of the many requirements of this limited pilot program is that participants have already submitted fingerprints in a prior visa application. 

Why didn’t they think of this work-around sooner? The immigration legal community is applauding the return of this program and hoping that the pilot goes smoothly so it can be continued and expanded. Visa wait times at the U.S. Consulates became very long during COVID, and many have not fully recovered. While nonimmigrants do not have to have a valid visa in their passport (which is only a travel document) if they are otherwise maintaining their immigration status, it is nerve-wracking to know that, if there was an emergency at home, they would also have to apply for a visa and arrange for an interview before they could return to the United States. Also, many H-1B employees have positions that require international travel, which could be short trips without adequate time for visa processing. Therefore, special trips are usually arranged to apply for visas after the old ones expire, which is costly for employees and employers.

The full requirements for participation in the pilot program can be found here: The key requirements are:

Also, this pilot program only applies to H-1B applicants, not their H-4 dependents. 

The application period will open on January 29, 2024, with additional application slots opening on February 5, February 12, February 19, and February 26. There will be 2,000 applications accepted each week for each participating Mission. Eligible applicants will apply here: If they are deemed eligible for the program, they will complete a Form DS-160, pay the visa application fee (which is the same amount paid at the Consulates), and receive instructions to mail their passports to the DOS for processing. It is estimated that processing will take 6 to 8 weeks and applications cannot be expedited. If an applicant is deemed not to qualify after mailing in their passport, the application will be denied and the fee will not be refunded, so all requirements should be reviewed carefully.

Unfortunately, most H-1B workers will not be able to take advantage of this pilot due to its prior visa date and place issuance requirements. Individuals who traveled to India during this time period required National Interest Exceptions for visa issuance and return to the United States. Also, the U.S. Consulates in Canada were closed or operating on an emergency basis for most of this period. Still, I expect that everyone who is eligible for this program will be eager to participate, so my prediction is that these limited slots will go fast. 

We are expecting an FAQ from the Department of State with more specifics on the logistics for the pilot program, so stay tuned.


immigration, visa, h-1b, labor & employment