Program for Visas Renewal
The U.S. State Department has announced plans to launch a pilot program that will offer visa renewal options for H-1B specialty occupation workers and other temporary visa holders in the United States. The program, which is set to commence later this year, will allow visa renewals to be processed within the country, eliminating the need for applicants to travel abroad.
Restoring stateside visa renewals is expected to help reduce the workload of consular offices abroad and improve the visa application process for foreign workers, who have been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, stated in an interview with Bloomberg Law that restoring stateside visa renewals will help address the difficulties that foreign workers faced during the pandemic when trying to return to their home country.
During the pandemic, foreign workers were forced to wait for long periods before securing visa appointments, with many left stranded abroad for months. The new program aims to eliminate these disruptions, making it easier for workers to access visa renewals without having to leave the country.
Tech Workers & Intra Company Employees
The stateside renewal option will be available to H-1B and L-1 visa holders, but there are plans to eventually expand it to other visa holders as well. H-1B visas, which are especially popular in the tech industry, allow employers to hire foreign workers for up to two three-year periods, and workers can apply for multiple extensions with an approved green card petition. L-1 visas, on the other hand, are available for employers who want to transfer managerial workers to the United States from overseas offices.
The move to add the domestic renewal option has been welcomed by immigration lawyers and business groups who have been calling for the State Department to address visa bottlenecks abroad, especially in India, the biggest source of H-1B visa holders. Foreign workers who travel abroad are unable to re-enter the US without a valid visa stamp, and long wait times for appointments during the pandemic meant many were stuck abroad for months.
Gov. Officials & Discussion
Although the agency had announced plans last year to pursue domestic renewals, few details were provided regarding a possible timeline. However, adding the domestic processing option does not require the State Department to issue new regulations. The primary challenge is setting up a new consular division in Washington, DC.
Shev Dalal-Dheini, Director of Government Relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which had pushed for the return of stateside visa renewals, stated that the new program would be an important step for workers and employers. “The need became even more apparent with the pandemic and delays in visa processing because people were really left in limbo,” she said. “If they had to travel, it wasn’t guaranteed that they were able to get their visa stamp to return.” Tiffany Derentz, Senior Counsel at Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP and a former State Department adviser, believes that the benefits of stateside renewals would extend to first-time applicants who have to seek appointments at US consular offices. “That should open up their capacity do a lot more interviews and get wait times down,” she said.
Overall, the new program is expected to make it easier for foreign workers to access visa renewals and improve the visa application process for workers and employers alike. With the pilot program set to launch later this year, it will be interesting to see how it impacts the US visa system and whether it leads to the introduction of similar initiatives in the future.