DOS: Pilot Program for Domestic H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Renewals Announced
On December 21, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) announced a pilot program to resume domestic visa renewal for qualified H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants who meet certain requirements. The pilot program will accept applications from January 29 to April 1, 2024.
Participation in the pilot is limited to individuals who have previously submitted fingerprints in connection with an application for a prior non-diplomatic nonimmigrant H-1B visa, are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement, and meet other applicable requirements. DOS said the goal of the pilot is “to test the Department’s technical and operational ability to resume domestic visa renewals for specific nonimmigrant classifications and to assess the efficacy of this program in reducing worldwide visa wait times by shifting certain workloads from overseas posts to the United States.”
Applicants who meet the requirements can participate during the application window by applying online. Written comments and related materials must be received by midnight April 15, 2024.
SOURCE: DOS notice, 88 Fed. Reg. 88467 (Dec. 21, 2023).
USCIS Updates Policy Guidance for International Students
On December 20, 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued policy guidance regarding F and M nonimmigrant students, including the agency’s role in adjudicating applications for employment authorization, change of status, extension of stay, and reinstatement of status for these students and their dependents in the United States. USCIS said it “expects that this will provide welcome clarity to international students and U.S. educational institutions on a wealth of topics, including eligibility requirements, school transfers, practical training, and on- and off-campus employment.”
For example, USCIS said, the guidance clarifies that F and M students must have a foreign residence that they do not intend to abandon, but such a student may be the beneficiary of a permanent labor certification application or immigrant visa petition and may still be able to demonstrate an intent to depart after a temporary period of stay.
In addition, the guidance specifies how an F student seeking an extension of optional practical training based on a degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics field may be employed by a startup company, as long as the employer adheres to the training plan requirements, remains in good standing with E-Verify, and provides compensation commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers, among other requirements.
SOURCE: USCIS alert (Dec. 20, 2023).
Department of State Expands Consular Authority for Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Waivers
On December 21, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) announced that it had consulted with the Department Homeland Security and determined that several categories of interview waivers are in the national interest. As of January 1, 2024, consular officers will have discretion to waive the in-person interview for:
- First time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and nonagricultural workers) and
- Other nonimmigrant visa applicants applying for any nonimmigrant visa classification who:
- Were previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification, unless the only prior issued visa was a B visa; and
- Are applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa’s expiration date.
Consular officers may still require in-person interviews on a case-by-case basis or because of local conditions. DOS encourages applicants to check embassy and consulate websites.
SOURCE: DOS notice (Dec. 21, 2023).
Department of State Advises on Passport Processing
On December 18, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) announced that passport processing times have returned to the agency’s pre-pandemic norm. As of December 18, 2023, DOS said, passport applications will be processed within 6 to 8 weeks for routine service and 2 to 3 weeks for expedited service, which costs an additional $60. Processing times begin when DOS receives an application at a passport agency or center and do not include mailing times.
DOS said that this year, demand for passports was “unprecedented.” Between October 2022 and September 2023, the agency issued more than 24 million passport books and cards, the highest number in U.S. history.
SOURCE: DOS notice (Dec. 18, 2023).