The U.S. Department of State plans to restart a program allowing nonimmigrants to renew their visas from within the United States rather than travel abroad to revalidate their visas at a U.S. consulate. Expected later this year, it will begin with a test pilot program with certain H and L visa holders, and is meant to alleviate significant visa application backlogs at U.S. consulates.
While much remains unknown about the pilot and its implementation, advocates have long been calling for a return to the stateside visa revalidation program that ended in Summer 2004, which previously permitted certain nonimmigrant visa holders to renew their visas by mail with the agency’s Visa Office in Washington D.C. To qualify for visa revalidation in the United States, applicants had to hold valid E, H, L, O, P, or certain other nonimmigrant statuses, have been previously issued a visa at a U.S. consulate, and have been admitted to the United States in the same status as that sought to be revalidated. Visas could be revalidated in the United States in the period beginning 60 days before and up to one year after expiration.
Stateside visa revalidation was a popular option for foreign nationals whose home consulates had a high volume of applications and long processing backlogs. The program was terminated in 2004 because the State Department did not have a means of collecting applicant biometrics as required by national security laws enacted after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Visa revalidation remained and remains an option for certain diplomatic and international organization visas. Domestic processing does not require any new regulations; however, a new consular division must be created in Washington D.C.
Benefits of stateside renewal include a reduction in the workload of U.S. consular offices abroad. In addition, it eliminates the need for qualifying visa holders to travel outside of the U.S. During the pandemic, it was incredibly difficult for these visa holders to exit the U.S. and return. Also, by offering domestic renewal of H-1B and L visas, U.S. consular offices in countries with the biggest source of H-1B holders, including India and China, are freed up to address ongoing backlogs. Additionally, employers are not affected when a visa holder must leave the country and return.
The State Department’s anticipated revalidation pilot is hopeful news for foreign nationals faced with the prospect of long waits for nonimmigrant visa renewal at U.S. consulates and the disruptions associated with those waits. However, it is important to note that the pilot is likely to be narrow in scope and time-limited as the State Department tests its ability to reimplement revalidation. It may take months or longer for the State Department to roll out a full stateside revalidation program after the pilot is completed.
Taylor and Associates will continue to monitor further announcements and inform our clients on the best approach to take advantage of this pilot program.
If you have questions about the H-1B or L visa or any other immigration-related issue, contact us today! We actively monitor ongoing updates to policy and procedures to ensure our clients get the right advice for their particular situations.