h1b visa stamping dropbox 221g
H1B Visa

Experience – H1B Visa Interview – Dropbox, 221g and Interview at U.S. Consulate in Chennai

Here’s an H1B Visa renewal Dropbox Experience in Chennai with 221(g) (happened in Mid 2017) as shared by an reader. As you read through the experience, you may realize the roller-coaster of emotional ride experienced by this reader.

What is Dropbox (aka Visa Interview Waiver)?

Frequent travelers to the USA could renew their visas without appearing at the U.S. Consulate for an in-person interview. Visa applicants are required to first complete the DS-160 and then schedule the visa interview using USTravelDocs.com website. While scheduling the visa, if the applicants is applying for visa renewal in the same category as previous visa, they could become eligible for Visa Interview (aka Drop Box).

H1B Visa stamping applicant’s approval status:

  • Old Visa Stamp: Issue date Oct 2014 and Expiry date Aug 2017
  • New petition approval from Aug 2017 to Aug 2020

Topics covered

  1. H1B Visa Extension with New Passport
  2. Questions – H1B Visa Documents Required for Dropbox
  3. Visiting Dropbox Facility in Chennai
  4. Waiting for H1B Visa Stamping in the Passport
  5. Lessons Learned from H1B Visa Renewal experience

1. H1B Visa Extension with New Passport

While completing my appointment to schedule the interview, I came to know that I’m qualified for the Drop box. But, my old passport was due to expire in November of 2017. Let’s call it passport A.

Now sit in a time machine and travel back to February 2017. My attorneys applied for H1B Visa extension with my old passport (passport A).

On March 23rd we bumped it up to Premium. Although the results didn’t come within 15 days USCIS refunded premium processing money and still vowed to expedite the processing. Which means, I would still get my petition adjudicated via Premium processing at free of cost. I got my H1B Extension approval in mid May.

I applied for new passport at the Indian Embassy at New York in August . In 12 days I got my new Indian passport. On 24th August I completed DS-160 for U.S. Consulate in Chennai consulate via Drop Box .

Flew in and reached Chennai on 11 August. But prior to submitting the document for the H1B stamping, I posted the following doubts here Facebook F1 Visa group

2. H1B Visa Documents Required for Dropbox

  1. Do I need old I-797 Approval Notices?
  2. What additional documents to submit?

1. Old H1B Visa Approvals Notice:

I qualify for H1B Visa stamping via drop box and in the drop box confirmation letter listed just one document for H1B renewal are as follows:

  • Photocopy of previous I-797 (only if the last visa stamped on the passport and current petition have a gap of more than one year) (applicable for H1, L1 Individual)

My questions:

  • I am trying to understand what defines this “gap”? Should I submit my old I-797 as well?
  • What “visa stamp on passport ” refers to? Does it mean the expiry date or the date of stamping or the date of issue of the visa. The answer to this dictates if I should submit my old I797. I am trying not to confuse the Visa officer

I am thinking I do not have to submit old I-797. What is your take on this?

An Immigration Attorney’s Reply: 

Here’s the relevant portion of the Visa Interview Waiver, also known as “Dropbox,” rule:

“222(h)(1)(B): Includes foreign nationals who are applying for a visa: “(i) not more than 12 months after the date on which such alien’s prior visa expired;”

According to your information above, your H1B renewal petition was approve 3 days before your last visa stamp expired. So you should not need to provide your old petition according to the rule.

However, you don’t know if a visa officer will incorrectly interpret that gap (because apparently the letter doesn’t say “expired” like the actual rule) to begin on the first date of the stamp. So the question for you becomes: Why would it confuse the officer to provide the old petition approval notice?

It’s a pretty simple document. But if that old petition risks raising other issues, then definitely consider a consultation with an immigration attorney to analyze potential impacts, or even whether they may exist.

2. Additional Documents

Does submitting any additional documents from the employer make life any better, like employment verification letter or just the documents demanded by the drop box confirmation page is enough?

Answer 1: I have used dropbox ones. Only submitted the documents that were asked for and nothing else. But had all others documents with me in case I needed them.

Answer 2: Just the documents asked by them, adding more stuff will only increase time a VO has to spend resulting in his/her probable frustration. If they need more docs, they can always ask

3. Visiting H1B Visa Dropbox Facility in Chennai

Upon showing up for drop box for H1B Visa extension documents verification, the officer asked for the old H1B approval notice and I wasn’t in a mindset to argue that it was not required. But I just didn’t have the energy to do so.

I proceed to actual drop box counter and gave all documents. Person at the counter looked at my passport and said  “Your Passport size photo isn’t showing you handsome enough. It looks blurred  (this was taken at Walmart here in USA).

I presented the other passport size photos and the final was to decision to get a new passport photo. I got all my documents back and start making calls to find nearest studio. I found one and took my actual passport size photo and showed up at the drop box facility again and submitted all documents.

In evening, I flew to my native place Kanyakumari (the southern most tip of India).

4. The Wait and 221(g)

And the wait begins. 3 days. 5 days last and no sign of any passport pick up notification email.

I began chasing ustraveldocs from 8th day onwards. They escalated the issue to Consulate team only after 10th day. I had return flights on 23rd October. Between 20th October and 22nd October I stood outside the drop box facility. Hoping for a miracle to happen.

I thought to myself, even if I get an email at 3:55 pm for passport pick up, I will be able to catch the flight. I had my hopes till 22nd September 3:59 PM. The same night I called up my airlines to check if I could postpone my ticket. The cost to postpone were expensive and I didn’t even have a tentative date as to when I would get my visa stamp. So, I decided not to fly on 23rd.

September 26th

I booked flight tickets to Hyderabad. I did a ton of work from our satellite office. I had planned to fly on September 27.

I got an email at 2:20 pm email from ustraveldocs, Passport is ready for pick up.

At first I was delighted but when I checked state department website it showed my DS 160 application is still under processing. Almost instantaneously I knew something is off .

September 27th – 221(g)

I visited drop box facility passport collection to collect my passport. I saw a blue slip was for 221(g). Please come back any day for Finger Printing Only.

September 28th – U.S. Consulate in Chennai

On 28th September I showed up at consulate. Counter 17 scanned my passport size photo and asked to go to counter 18 for finger printing and then to counter 19 for interview .

I was confused if I have an interview. At counter 19 the lovely lady dressed in the saree for dahsera asked me, “Do you know if the lady at the other counter scanned your photo. I said, “I did see her placing my photo on the scanner but I didn’t notice the beam of light going across”.

She chimes in something onto the computer. I kept admiring her earrings!

Few seconds later, she said we have all we need and you are free to go and and she kept my passport .

September 29 and October 2 were holidays . So my visa was stamped on October 3. I flew back on October 8.

The wait was agonizing, especially from the 8th day.

I fell sick owing to the long waits near the drop box facility. Heat, dehydration and maybe water led to influenza A. I was hospitalized and was on heavy dosages of medicines.

A simple delay in visa processing kicked in other unpleasant chain of events both personal and professional.

What I have described is just 50% of the problems.

5. Tips for H1B Visa Stamping

Here’s some tips and lessons I learned from my H1B Visa stamping n Chennai:

  1. If you are going for stamping, be mentally prepared for waits. There are slight chances of delay.
  2. My case file was related to old passport. My extension was approved based on passport A. But I showed up at Dropbox with passport B.
  3. U.S. consulate doesn’t copy paste the case file from old passport to new passport. They first authenticate, verify, review and then call you for finger printing. Every finger print of a non-immigrant visa applicant is attached attached to the passport. I think when your issuing country gives you a new passport, US consulate doesn’t carry forward it’s case history from old to new. Hence the delay. This fiction is purely my imagination.
  4. Take all necessary health precautions (flu shots, dengue shots, malaria, take all you can take it). Chennai has a lot of metro rail constructions and be prepared for traffic delays and also for dust!
  5. While I was there for fingerprinting on 28th September, I did over hear other visa interviews. Many were asked client letters. Some were grilled.

Do you have an unique F1, F2, H1B or H4 Visa interview experience that would help others? Write it up and submit it Here.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for this write up. I agree this delay could be mainly because of the new passport. When I had to renew my I-94 due to my old passport expiration date, the CBP officer in atlanta told me that they can’t simply add it in the system to extend the I-94. So I had to re-enter US via Canada to update my new passport and bio metric details in their system. When I went to India (chennai consulate) for the stamping, there wasn’t issue. In fact I carried both my old and new passport, the visa officer just took my new passport.

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