Written by Deeba Fahami
For the first time in almost 20 years, the State Department (“DOS”) will launch a pilot program later this year offering visa renewal options in the US for H-1B and L-1 workers who are currently required to travel abroad.
The DOS is the agency who has exclusive authority to issue visas. Currently, visas may be issued only at a US embassy or consulate abroad. Prior to 2004, however, visas could be renewed in the US with stateside processing.
As a result of the suspension of visa processing at the US consulates abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an extensive backlog of visa appointments. In an effort to reduce these bottlenecks, DOS introduced the Visa Waiver Program which expanded discretionary authority of consular officers to waive the personal appearance of nonimmigrant visa applicants under certain conditions. Immigration attorneys and business groups have urged the DOS to reintroduce stateside visa processing as an additional measure to reduce the bottlenecks abroad.
This stateside processing pilot program will begin later this year and will allow certain foreign nationals to renew expiring visas in the US, without the need to travel abroad. The option for stateside renewal will be available to H-1B and L-1 visa holders, with the possibility for expansion to include other visa categories in the future. Details regarding documentation requirements, application procedures, and expected timeline for stateside visa processing have not yet been released.
Eligible foreign nationals will receive a visa stamp or an endorsement in their passport while in the United States. This will avoid disruptions in work as foreign nationals can avoid a trip abroad. Foreign nationals can continue to work in the US while their passports and applications are reviewed by DOS. Stateside processing will also reduce the workload of consular officers abroad, and is expected to reduce long wait times for visa renewals. This is of major importance to both foreign nationals and employers. More information is forthcoming as to who qualifies and the application itself.
We recommend foreign nationals continue to book consular appointments abroad until more details about this pilot program are released.