Pilot Program Announced for Stateside Renewal of H-1B Visas
Authored by Wendy R. Barlow
H-1B visa recipient workers play an important role in strengthening the American economy and making our country better. Qualified professionals who fill important roles in the fields of engineering, technology, healthcare, and education enrich our society. If you’re an H-1B visa recipient, you’re working hard to innovate and contribute to the United States.
The Department of State recently announced a pilot program that can make it easier for H-1B visa recipients to renew their visas in the United States, allowing them to remain in place with their families and continue working without the need to return to their home country for a lengthy waiting process. Here’s how the pilot program may impact your family.
What Is an H-1B Visa?
An H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa that employers can use to employ highly educated professionals in specialized fields who live abroad. The H1-B visa is intended to bring top talent and innovation to the United States workforce.
If a U.S. employer conducts a thorough search for qualified U.S. applicants to fill an eligible role and cannot find a suitable U.S.-based employee, the employer is allowed to conduct a search for a qualified applicant who lives outside of the country and present them with a job offer.
If the applicant meets the criteria for the job and for immigration standards, they can receive a non-immigrant visa that will allow them to bring their immediate family to the United States and accept the job offer.
How Long Does an H-1B Visa Last?
H-1B nonimmigrant status lasts a maximum of six years; there are some additional extensions allowed if the beneficiary’s employer has started the green card process. The initial validity period is three years, and most recipients can apply for an extension of another three years. Since the H-1B visa is considered a dual-intent non-immigrant visa, some recipients may be eligible to apply for a green card and become permanent residents of the United States during their stay in the country.
How Were H-1B Visas Previously Renewed?
It is important to understand that a visa is a travel document. It is used to request entry or admission into the United States. H1-B visas are issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This required foreign nationals to complete a DS-160 and attend an in-person interview. Scheduling an interview could be difficult due to limited appointment availability. This could cause foreign nationals to be stuck overseas for extended periods of time as they could not enter the U.S. without a valid H-1B visa.
How Does the Pilot Program Change the H-1B Visa Renewal Process?
The pilot program will allow stateside renewal for H-1B visas. Previously, delays in the visa renewal process have kept eligible H-1B workers trapped outside of the United States for weeks or even months while waiting for approval. The pilot program allows eligible H-1B visa recipients to remain in the United States during the process.
H-1B recipients can apply for renewal from within the United States, saving them the effort and costs of traveling in and out of the country while contending with an uncertain employment status. The pilot program is designed to make the process more convenient and economically efficient for qualified H-1B workers who contribute to the United States workforce.
When Does Stateside Renewal of H1B Visas Pilot Program Begin?
The pilot program began on January 29, 2024. Applications will be accepted over a period of five weeks, with new application slots being made available on scheduled dates:
- January 29, 2024.
- February 5, 2024.
- February 12, 2024.
- February 19, 2024.
- February 26, 2024.
The program will close, at the latest, on April 1, 2024, but may close earlier if the program runs out of allocated application slots. The estimated limit is 4,000 total weekly allocated applications. It’s unknown if or when the weekly limit will be reached. Given the fact that the H-1B visa pilot program is a highly desirable alternative to the former process, it’s best to assume that most H-1B visa recipients will be interested.
Approximately 2,000 spots are reserved for people with visas issued by the Canadian U.S. consulate, and 2,000 spots are reserved for people who received their visas through the consulate in India.
When the website reaches its weekly application limit, the option to submit an application will be taken away until the next week when more application slots become available. There currently is no automated alert system in place. You’re responsible for checking for availability on the listed dates.
What Happens If the Pilot Program Reaches Capacity?
Immigration authorities haven’t provided an estimate for how many H-1B visa renewal applications they believe the pilot program will receive. It’s possible that the pilot program may end early if every application slot is filled ahead of schedule. It’s also possible that the program won’t run out of application slots. There’s no way to know.
The best strategy would be to prepare your documents ahead of time and be ready to submit them when the program opens. If you can’t secure a spot during the first opening, mark your calendar and try early morning on every available date until you’re able to successfully submit your application.
If you can’t get through, plan to proceed with the traditional H-1B renewal process. It’s unknown if the pilot program will be coming back again in 2024 or when the total H-1B renewal cap for the fiscal year will be reached, so it’s best not to assume the option will be made available at a later date.
How Do You Apply for Stateside Renewal of H-1B Visas?
The application begins with an eligibility questionnaire to determine if you’re qualified to participate in the pilot program. If you aren’t qualified, you won’t be able to proceed. If you do qualify, you’ll be sent an electronic DS-160 application form. You’ll complete the required information and electronically pay the application fee, which is $205.
The second part of the process requires you to submit your documents to the U.S. Department of State. You’ve already completed this process before, and they’re going to ask for the same documents, including your passport. You will be provided with instructions for document submission. You may need to request specific documents from your United States employer.
It can take anywhere from six to eight weeks after receipt of documents to process your request, and there is no expedited or premium processing for the pilot program. If you need to leave the country and you don’t have your passport, your only option is to withdraw your application to the pilot program.
Be mindful of the long processing times before you apply. Make sure you’re prepared to wait 6 to 8 weeks for processing. Although the wait seems long, note that the wait times for the former method of renewal could last up to six months and may require some H-1B visa recipients and their families to return to their home country during the waiting period.
Will the Pilot Program Become Permanent?
Immigration institutions are always looking for ways to simplify the visa process and reduce backlogged cases without jeopardizing national security or circumventing immigration law. The pilot program for stateside renewal of H-1B visas, if successful, can open up doors for similar pilot programs for other visas.
The Department of State has announced that they’re researching ways to utilize a similar process for other types of visa renewal. There is no official information regarding which types of visas will be subject to pilot programs or when those programs are expected to launch.
If the pilot programs are deemed successful, there is a chance that the Department of State will make them permanent. The program may be modified or adjusted before achieving permanency. Since the first pilot program hasn’t launched yet, there’s no way to make an effective determination regarding its success. More information will likely be made available before the end of 2024.
Do You Need Assistance With the H-1B Renewal, Extension, or Green Card Process?
H-1B visas can allow nonimmigrants to remain in the United States for up to 6 years. If you choose, you can pursue permanent resident status (and even United States citizenship) through your H-1B visa. If you need assistance with your H-1B visa case, the experienced immigration law team at Cohen, Tucker + Ades can help. Contact us for a consultation on your H-1B visa case.