U.S. to allow H-1B holders to renew visas without leaving country on pilot basis

The move is likely to benefit tens of thousands of foreign tech workers, particularly from India.

Updated - February 14, 2023 09:36 pm IST

Published - February 14, 2023 02:11 pm IST - Washington

Photo used for representational purpose only.

Photo used for representational purpose only.

The United States is planning to resume the process of domestic visa revalidation in certain categories, like H-1B and L1 visas, on a pilot basis later this year, a move that will benefit tens of thousands of foreign tech workers, particularly from India.

Until 2004, certain categories of non-immigrant visas, particularly the H-1B, could be renewed or stamped inside the US. After that, for the renewal of these visas, in particular, those on H-1B, the foreign tech workers have to go out of the country, mostly to their own country to get the H-1B extension stamped on their passport.

The pilot project when fully implemented will benefit professionals to get the stamping done with the US.

For all the H-1B visa holders, when their visa is renewed, they need to get their passports stamped with renewal dates. This is required if they wish to travel outside of the US and re-enter the US. As of now, H-1B visa restamping is not allowed within the US.

Restamping can only be done at any US consulate.

This was a big inconvenience for foreign guest workers and also for their employees, particularly at a time when the visa wait time is more than 800 days or more than two years.

The much-sought-after H-1B visas are issued for three years at a time.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

“We are working in earnest on plans to restart this service for certain petition-based NIV categories, and we hope to have a pilot up and running later this year. This would eliminate the need for these applicants to travel abroad to renew visas,” a State Department spokesperson told PTI.

The State Department facilitated domestic visa revalidation until 2004 for applicants who were physically present in the US and renewing a visa in certain petition-based nonimmigrant visa (NIV) categories, the official said.

“We cannot comment on how many visa holders would be initially eligible, but the pilot would begin with a small number of cases before scaling over the following 1-2 years,” said the State Department spokesperson in response to a question.

Over the past few months, the Biden administration has taken several steps to streamline the visa processing system and reduce inconveniences.

State Department’s approval

Notably, this was one of the recommendations of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, which now seems to have been implemented by the State Department.

Under the existing rule, that came into force in 2004, the procedure for restamping H1-B and L visas is to visit the home country and submit their H1, and L1 visas, passports, and documents by way of a dropbox or interview.

People have to wait months or years for H1-B visa stamping or sometimes they get no response after submitting all documents and get stuck for over 2 years in their home country. While their families are waiting in the US for him/her to come back, the presidential commission had argued in one of its meetings last year.

Moved by a commission member, Ajay Jain Bhutoria from Silicon Valley, the Presidential Commission recommended that H1-B and L visas be allowed for restamping in the US by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

It urged the USCIS to establish a separate department or unit to handle restamping of renewed H1-B and L visas within the US.

The commission felt that the whole process has proven to be very painful for legal immigrants who are invited to work here in the US to support the US companies and the economy.

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