Zulkie Partners has previously written on this topic. Please consider reading that article here for relevant background information.

The United States used to allow foreign nationals to renew visas without leaving the country. Why and when did that change?

After September 11th, Congress passed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, which required that visas issued after October of 2004 have biometrics taken. Department of State (“DOS”) did not have the capacity to collect biometric information within the United States, so the domestic visa renewal program had to be canceled. This required all foreign nationals to travel abroad to a U.S. Consulate to have their fingerprints taken for their new visa.

Because the pilot program is limited to visa renewal applicants, the foreign nationals who will now be allowed to renew their visas without traveling will already have fingerprints on file with DOS from their initial visa application. This ensures that DOS maintains compliance with the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002.


Photo by Meg Jenson on Unsplash

What are the requirements to qualify for the pilot program?

Foreign nationals must satisfy 12 requirements to qualify for the domestic visa renewal pilot program. These requirements are as follows:

  1. Must be renewing an H-1B visa
  2. Previous H-1B visa must have been issued in Canada between January 1, 2020 and April 1, 2023 OR issued in India between February 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021
  3. Must not be subject to a reciprocity fee
  4. Must be eligible for an interview waiver
  5. Must have submitted all ten fingerprints in connection with a previous visa application
  6. Previous visa must not have a “clearance received” annotation
  7. Must not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver
  8. Must have an approved and not expired H-1B approval notice
  9. Must have been admitted to the U.S. in H-1B status after their most recent trip abroad
  10. Must be currently maintaining H-1B status in the U.S.
  11. Must not have allowed their period of authorized admission in H-1B status to expire
  12. Must intend to reenter the U.S. after a temporary period abroad

If a foreign national fails to meet even one of these eligibility requirements, they will not qualify to renew their visa in the U.S..

H-4 dependents are not eligible for the pilot program.

I meet all eligibility requirements. How can I apply for a new visa without traveling?

Beginning on January 29, 2024, the DOS will begin accepting online applications for domestic visa renewals at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/domestic-renewal.html.

On January 29, February 5, February 12, February 19, and February 26, the DOS will release 2,000 applications for individuals with visas issued in Canada and an additional 2,000 applications will be released for individuals with visas issued in India. Each application submitted will count against the 2,000 available. When 2,000 applications have been submitted, no additional applications will be accepted until the next batch of available applications are released.

The application period will remain open until either all available applications are used or April 1, 2023, whichever comes first.

clipboard and laptop

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

What will the application process look like?

After submitting the DS-160 and paying the application processing fee, foreign nationals will receive instructions on sending their required documents to DOS. The required documents include:

The average processing time for domestic visa renewals is expected to be 6-8 weeks with DOS aiming to have all applications processed by May 1, 2024. Expedited processing requests are not permitted.

If the application is rejected as part of the pilot program, the processing fee will not be refunded and the foreign national would need to schedule a visa appointment at a U.S. Consulate abroad to renew their visa.

If the application is accepted and the visa is issued, the foreign national’s passport will be returned to them via the U.S. Postal Service or another courier service. Applicants will be able to check the status of their application at https://ceac.state.gov/CEACStatTracker/Status.aspx?App=NIV.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Zulkie Partners if you have questions about the pilot program or submitting your application.