The U.S. State Department is in the early stages of developing a pilot program designed to simplify the visa renewal process for select work visa holders within the United States. This initiative, aimed at eligible H-1B visa holders, who make up a substantial portion of the highly skilled foreign workforce, aims to reduce the necessity for visa holders to travel back to their home countries for visa renewals.
The program intends to address the uncertainties faced by U.S. companies that employ H-1B temporary workers. By eliminating the need for visa holders to visit a U.S. consulate abroad for status renewals, it seeks to streamline and expedite the renewal process.
The State Department will assess how this policy shift impacts the availability of visa appointments on a global scale, with the goal of reducing appointment backlogs and potentially freeing up appointment slots for individuals seeking U.S. work visas outside the United States.
Immigration attorneys have long advocated for the reinstatement of domestic visa renewals, as the current requirement for visa holders to travel abroad for renewals can result in significant expenses and months of delays, disrupting employees’ lives.
The State Department aims to begin accepting renewal applications later this year, initially involving a limited number of voluntary participants. However, the program must navigate the rule-making process, commencing with White House review. Once this phase is completed, the State Department will solicit public feedback, make any necessary adjustments to the proposed rule, proceed to a final White House review, publish the rule in the Federal Register, and finally implement the new policy.
In 2004, the State Department discontinued domestic renewal of specific work-related non-immigrant visas, as it failed to meet post-9/11 requirements, such as collecting biometric data, mandated by the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act’s Section 303.