In a move that will assist a significant number of Indian technologists, the United States will launch a trial program for local renewal of certain kinds of H-1B visas in December. If the pilot is successful, H-1B visa holders will only need to mail their visas to the State Department for renewal, rather than traveling outside the US to their home countries.
It should be noted that the visa renewal program is only for work visas and is meant for persons who are living in the US for an extended period of time and want to renew their visa without returning overseas. Initially, the pilot will address approximately 20,000 work visa renewals. The plan was conceived in February and subsequently announced in September during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the United States. The measure is intended to reduce visa-related costs and delays while also addressing backlog issues. According to Bloomberg Law, the visa renewal pilot program is one of several initiatives that the US State Department is looking to implement or continue in order to reduce wait times for travel to the US.
"In India, the demand (for US visas) is still very high," Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, told PTI. The wait times of six, eight, and twelve months are insufficient and do not reflect how we regard India."
"We want to make sure that Indian visitors get appointments as soon as possible. One way we achieve this is through the domestic visa renewal system, which is heavily focused on India. We're testing it," she explained. The State Department will award 20,000 visas to foreign nationals who are already in the country over a three-month period beginning in December.
"In the first group, we'll do 20,000. The vast majority of those will be Indian nationals living in the United States, and we will continue to expand as time goes on. Because Indians are the most skilled group of workers in the United States, we expect that this initiative will help India significantly and save people from having to travel back to India or anywhere else for a visa appointment to have their visa renewed. It will allow our missions in India to focus on fresh applicants," said Stufft.
A federal register notice will be released soon, outlining all of the actions that must be performed as well as who is eligible to apply in the first tranche. "These visas are processed here in the United States. So the plan is for a visa to be mailed to us in Washington from the United States. We print the visa, process it, put it in the passport, and send it back to someone in the US," Stufft explained.
"So that people don't have to travel to Mexico, Canada, India, or anywhere else to renew their visas." That will be clearly stated in the federal register notice that will be published in a few weeks," she added
"The announcement by the Department of State is a light at the end of the tunnel for so many foreign national workers whose lives have been put on hold due to exceptionally long visa processing times," stated Daryanani Law Group, a boutique immigration law firm.
What is the significance of this?
“The Department of State's highly anticipated rollout of a stateside visa renewal program could be critical for companies bringing workers into the US and individuals coming to work in the US, particularly in light of the challenges encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath," said Kirsten Kelly, Partner, Immigration Law at KPMG Canada.
Currently, all visa applicants must leave the United States and schedule interviews at US consulate offices around the world. Even if an interview waiver is granted, the visa applicant must leave the United States and be physically present in the consulate's jurisdiction. "A stateside program will save certain H-1B visa applicants countless hours of travel and money spent on travel abroad, as they will no longer be required to exit the United States and visit a consular post for the renewal of an H-1B visa," he said.
There is also anticipation that this program will lessen consular backlogs and delays, which have resulted in lengthy visa appointment wait times and processing. Over one million H-1B visa holders would be affected. The move by the State Department was deemed "significant" by Indian-American community leader Ajay Jain Bhutoria.
Bhutoria presented such a recommendation as a member of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, which was accepted and recommended by US President Joe Biden. "I am happy to see the recommendation I presented on behalf of immigration subcommittees on the Commission for H-1B visa stamping in the USA finally being implemented," he told reporters. According to him, this relief will eventually affect over one million H-1B holders, a major number of them are Indians.
According to KPMG, the program's preliminary details have been disclosed, and they are as follows:
The program will only accept H-1B primary candidates.
The program will only be available to nationals of countries that do not charge reciprocal fees, one of which will be India.
The program will have eligibility requirements similar to the interview-waiver program
Initially, the project would be open to 20,000 applicants
Voluntary involvement will be required for the program
"The immigration community believes that this program is just the beginning of a much larger visa-renewal program that will include additional visa types and be open to more applicants. It is widely acknowledged that the DOS will provide a considerably more expedient and secure manner of renewing visas as an alternative to mandatory foreign travel," stated Alexander Tonic, Associate at KPMG Canada.