A pilot program will be launched by the State Department later this year to offer visa renewals in the U.S. for H-1B specialty occupation workers and other temporary visa holders who are currently required to travel abroad. Until 2004, some nonimmigrant visas could be renewed by mail, but this process was ended due to changes in national security laws. The stateside renewal option will be available to H and L visa holders and could eventually be expanded to family members of H-1B and L-1 employees in H-4 and L-2 status.
Prior to the announcement of the program, foreign workers who traveled abroad couldn’t reenter the U.S. without a valid visa stamp. But long wait times for appointments during the pandemic meant many were stuck abroad for months, adding disruptions for employers and uncertainty for the visa holders. The recommendation for domestic visa revalidation was one of the suggestions made by the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. However, it took a long time to bring the program to fruition because a new consular division needed to be established in Washington, D.C. to make the program possible.
Benefits of the Pilot Program
One of the biggest advantages of the program is that it will save those applicants from having to leave the country by getting their stamping done inside the U.S. Conversely, this option will reduce the workload and backlogs of consular offices abroad. While the pilot program will be narrow in scope, it could potentially help up to 500,000 Indian visa holders, according to some estimates.
“We all saw during the pandemic how difficult it was for these people to return to their home country and often not be able to get visa appointments to come back to their home, the United States,” said Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. “That’s what we’re trying to address initially with this.”
The program could be especially beneficial for thousands of Indian tech workers, who receive the majority of H-1B visas, and the largest share of L-1 visas.
The State Department is working on plans to restart this service for certain petition-based nonimmigrant visa (NIV) categories, and the pilot would begin with a small number of cases before scaling up over the next 1-2 years.
Stay tuned for more updates regarding this pilot program!