Mobility and the New U.S. Visa Stamp Renewal Pilot

Mobility and the New U.S. Visa Stamp Renewal Pilot

In the near future, H-1B and L-1 workers can expect changes to U.S. State Department policies.

The H-1B visa program has remained virtually unchanged since it was created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990. It has been required for H-1B visa holders to return to their country of origin to have their visa stamped before returning to the United States since 2004. Stateside visa renewal is coming back, and that’s good news for immigrants, their employers, and the U.S.  

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, visa backlogs have not been cleared. There has been a wait of over a year for those wanting to travel internationally for the stamping of their H-1B visas. According to Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the US Department of State will launch a pilot program allowing domestic visa stamp renewals. 

Bringing back domestic visa renewal options for Americans is a significant first step. Those are the words of Tiffany Derentz, a senior counsel at Berry Appleman and Leiden, a global immigration firm. By renewing domestic visas, U.S. embassies and consulates abroad will be able to focus on processing visas to other countries, such as B-1 business visas, that cannot be processed in the U.S. Businesses and visa applicants will be able to plan ahead. Over the last few years, some unexpected delays have occurred. Aside from cost savings (such as travel and hotel costs when renewing visas overseas), some companies benefit from increased certainty in scheduling travel to and from the U.S.  

According to Derentz, the pilot program will also affect immigration in the coming years. Domestic visa renewal could contribute significantly to reducing visa backlogs among key visa processing countries, such as India and Mexico, in 2024 and 2025 particularly. As a result, consular officers at U.S. embassies and consulates could focus on applications that require in-person interviews. It is likely that domestic renewal will be seen as more of a courtesy to applicants as the State Department reduces backlogs and processing times return to more reasonable levels. 

There has been little information released about the pilot program, but Derentz notes that visa revalidation is separate from domestic renewal. Although the State Department has not released information about who will qualify for the pilot program, a recent international visit may provide some clues. President Biden and the White House released a joint statement after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the U.S. in June, indicating that some Indian nationals would be included in the pilot program. 74.1% of H1-B visas were issued to Indians in the lottery of 2021, and 74.9% in the lottery of 2020. It is welcome news that Indian talent is now able to renew their domestic visas more easily in the U.S., having faced immigration obstacles such as the nationality-based cap on green card applications.  

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