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By Sanwar Ali:
The new US visa pilot program could help Indian workers and other immigrants save time on travel and wait times. While visa wait times at US Embassies and Consulates is much reduced in many places including in India, it can be inconvenient to have to obtain a visa at an US Embassy or Consulate.
According to reports, the state department is planning to pilot a program that will allow some people on certain non-immigrant visa categories such as those on H1B visa and L1 visas to renew visas from within the US.
Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, told Bloomberg Law.
“We all saw during the pandemic how difficult it was for these people to return to their home country and often not be able to get visa appointments to come back to their home, the United States,” “That’s what we’re trying to address initially with this.”
Indian tech workers will be amongst the biggest beneficiaries of US visa processing from within the US. Indians typically receive more than three quarters of the H-1B visas annually. L1 visas are also used a great deal by Indian nationals.
When is visa processing for L-1 and H-1B visas necessary?
Previous, to the 9/11 terrorist attacks the State Department allowed certain nonimmigrant visa holders E, H. L. O, P visa holders to renew their visas via mail with the agency's Visa Office at Washington DC.
Those on US visas who renew or change their status from within the US can remain in the US for the duration of their extended non-immigrant visa status. However, the problem occurs when they wish to travel out of the US. To re-enter on the US work visa, the applicant usually needs to apply for a visa at the relevant US Embassy or Consulate.
The previous visa processing program was ended because authorities did not have the ability to collect biometric data from applicants as required by the national security laws that were enacted following 9/11. Foreign workers have been required to return to their homelands to get their extension stamped by a consulate.
Officials from the state departments hope that the pilot program will help reduce this workload. Employers would be able to save time and money on stateside renewal, such as travel adjustments for foreign talent stuck overseas or indefinite time zones.
New pilot program will only help with some H-1B visa and L-1 visa renewals.
Pilots will have a limited scope with only some applicants being able to apply for US visas from within the US.
It seems that stateside visa processing will likely be extended for dependent family members of H-1B or L-1 employees currently in the US under H-4 and L-2 statuses, respectively. More people may qualify for visa processing from within the US, as the state department creates the infrastructure for a consular section in Washington DC to handle visa applications.
Has there been a reduction in US visa wait times for Indians applying for visas?
One bit of good news is that US visa processing wait times in India is much shorter than before. Perhaps the Biden administration is more sympathetic than the previous Trump administration, towards Indians who have in some cases had to wait more than a year for a US visa. Looking at the US State Department visa wait times at the US Embassy in Delhi for H, L, O, P, or Q visas is eight calendar days.
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