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A Complete Guide to the Domestic H-1B Visa Renewal Pilot Program

Key takeaways

  • If your employee’s H-1B visa was issued by Mission Canada or India, they may be eligible for the domestic renewal pilot program.
  • 20,000 online applications are available from January 29th to April 1st, 2024 on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • To navigate the new and untested visa process, it’s best to rely on specialist immigration services like Legalpad by Deel.

The new Domestic H-1B visa renewal pilot program allows foreign specialists to extend their work visas without having to travel abroad. If any of your team holds a valid H-1B visa from either a Canadian or Indian consulate, they could be eligible.

However, there are only 20,000 application slots available and the initial program runs until April 1st, 2024. With such a narrow window and limited spots, it’s crucial to prepare for the application process. Missing a step or misunderstanding a requirement could mean losing this opportunity.

Our article provides a comprehensive overview of the new domestic H1-B renewal pilot program. Continue reading to ensure you’ve got all the relevant information for a smooth and successful application process.

What is the H-1B visa renewal pilot program?

The US Department of State has launched a program that allows specialty workers to renew their H-1B visas from inside the country. They’re considering reintroducing them to reduce the backlog of applicants and shorten wait times.

Foreign nationals are eligible if they have a valid H-1B visa form:

  • US Mission Canada with an issuance date of January 1st, 2020 onwards
  • US Mission India with an issuance date of February 1st, 2021 onwards

As a pilot program, the initiative is temporary and limited in scope. The application period runs from January 29th until April 1st or when the slots are filled, whichever comes first.

Only 20,000 slots are available during the pilot. The Department of State will accept 4000 applicants each week (2000 for Canada and 2000 for India) starting from the following dates:

  • January 29th
  • February 5th
  • February 12th
  • February 19th
  • February 26th

If you miss one application date, you can try again on the next. However, once the deadline passes and all the slots are filled, you’ll lose the opportunity to participate in the program. H-1B visa holders can still apply for renewal through a US embassy or consulate overseas.

Equally, participation isn’t mandatory. Employees can leave the US at the end of their current visa and apply for renewal the standard way if it suits them better.

Pros and cons of the domestic H-1B visa renewal

Renewing your team’s H-1B visas via the pilot program has advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to weigh them up to see whether it’s the best move for your worker.

The main practical advantage is that employees won’t need to travel abroad, saving them time, money, and stress. You can also minimize the disruption to your business operations during the application. Overall morale may be higher when teams don’t have to worry about losing colleagues for weeks or possibly months at a time.

However, there are downsides to the domestic H-1B visa renewal that could influence your employee’s decision to apply.

One major disadvantage is that you can’t renew other visa classifications on the pilot program. If your employee has family members with H-4 visa status, they can’t include them on the application.

Another factor to consider is the intensity of the competition. The US government has limited slots and plans to award them on a first-come, first-served basis. Employees have to be fast to get a spot and may have to keep reapplying.

As the H-1B renewal program is new and untested, your team may face uncertainty over the application process. You won’t be able to find firsthand accounts or ask others about their experiences.

Expert services like Legalpad can provide all the answers you need and offer you step-by-step guidance. With our in-depth knowledge of the H-1B visa, and experience helping individuals and companies in similar scenarios, we can ensure a seamless process.

How to apply for the H-1B visa renewal

If you’re thinking of participating in the domestic H-1B renewal program, here are the steps you need to take.

1. Check your eligibility

Your employees have to meet certain criteria to participate in the pilot program. Aside from holding a valid H-1B visa issued from Mission Canada or India, they must:

  • Currently reside in the US
  • Maintain sponsorship from a US-based employer
  • Hold a valid passport with at least two blank pages and six months before the expiration date
  • Hold H-1B visa status and an unexpired I-94 form
  • Intend to maintain their H-1B status if they’re temporarily abroad and about to reenter the US
  • Have no previous visa rejections on record
  • Lack a ‘clearance received’ note on their prior H-1B visa
  • Have all their biometric fingerprint data on record
  • Require no ineligibility waivers or consular interviews
  • Be exempt from the visa issuance reciprocity fee

Indian and Canadian citizens don’t require an issuance fee. Other nationalities can check whether they’re exempt on the reciprocity and documents list.

If you didn’t sponsor your employee’s previous visa application, it shouldn’t affect their eligibility. They just need to have maintained their H-1B status throughout their current stay in the US.

If you’re based outside the US, and considering recruiting an eligible worker, consider using an employer of record (EOR). Services like Deel can hire and sponsor employees on your behalf. We can onboard new workers within a week so you can still make the upcoming deadlines for the H-1B pilot program.

US immigration has a navigator tool to help you check whether any foreign workers meet requirements. Although it can’t guarantee their eligibility, it can clarify disqualifying factors. For example, you can find examples of valid documents with the relevant details circled.

It’s important to ensure your employees meet the conditions. If you move forward with the application but they’re not eligible, immigration officials can’t refund the Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee.

2. Prepare the required documents

Workers are required to provide supporting documents during the application process. As the visas are first-come, first-served, creating time pressure, it’s best to help them organize their paperwork in advance.

Here’s a list of the documents they’ll need:

  • A valid passport
  • The travel document containing the H-1B visa (if it’s not in their current one)
  • A color photograph taken within the last six months with a white background
  • A copy of their I-94 form
  • A copy of their current I-797 form (a notice of action that US immigration issues for pending or
  • approved applications)

You don’t have to provide any evidence that your employee currently resides or works in the US. Immigration officials will check the details provided on the form against other records.

The Department of State will hold the passport for six to eight weeks while they process the application. Your employee can withdraw their application and request it back, but they’ll lose their slot.

3. Submit your application

From January 29th, 2024, your worker can complete a DS-160 form via the online portal at the dedicated US government web address. The application will give instructions to follow, including which documents to upload and how to post the passport.

The portal will allow your worker to pay the MRV fee of $205.00. Unlike some other types of visas, it’s not possible to pay extra to expedite the process.

In some cases, the Department of State may request extra information. They’ll notify your employee and specify the exact details or documents they need.

4. Track your progress and await approval

Once immigration officials have received the passport, visa processing should take around six to eight weeks. Your employee can then monitor your progress using the US visa tracker. The Department of State warns that it can’t give individual updates on the process, only automated notifications.

If your worker is unsuccessful, they can still petition for a H-1B renewal from overseas. The visa rejection may mean they didn’t meet the strict eligibility criteria. However, the Department of State can’t transfer any applications to a US consulate abroad, so they’ll have to start from scratch.

If the application is successful, the employee will receive their passport back, plus a new I-797 form indicating an extension of their stay. Allow three or four days for delivery. Applicants can’t collect their documents in person, but the Department of State will give them a tracking number for the courier.

The future of H-1B visa renewals

There are calls for the US government to make the domestic H-1B program permanent and expand it to cover more visa categories.

In an interview with the Economic Times, Indian officials said they’d requested an extension to the program. They’d also like the US government to allow dependents on future programs.

Expanding the domestic visa renewal program would also help the US regain some of its lost talent amid the tech layoffs. There are reports that Canada received over 6000 H-1B visa holders from its neighbor in 2023.

Finding and hiring international talent may be a key part of your business strategy. Legalpad by Deel can help you stay current with new government policies to ensure you’re seizing every possible opportunity and supporting employees as best you can. For example, we can tell you what options are available to your team when work visas approach their expiration date.

Get prepared for the renewal process with Legalpad by Deel

Although the domestic H-1B pilot program has limited spots, it’s worth pursuing. Your team can renew visas without disrupting their personal lives or taking extensive time off work.

However, navigating a new and untested process can be challenging. It’s crucial to get the expert guidance of an immigration service like Legalpad by Deel. Our mobility experts can walk you through each step, from checking eligibility to tracking the application.

Contact the LegalPad team to see how we can simplify visa renewals.

About the author:

Jemima Owen-Jones

Jemima helps international startups and their teams navigate the work visa process so they can get approved fast and focus on what they do best.