The U.S. Department of State has indicated that it will establish a pilot program that will allow some non-immigrant visa holders to get their visas renewed without having to leave the United States.

The information came from an interview in Bloomberg Law from Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. According to Ms. Stufft, the pilot program will begin later this year and will apply to non-immigrant H and L visa renewals, restoring in part a domestic visa revalidation program that was eliminated in 2004. Currently, renewals (as well as all initial non-immigrant visas) must be obtained abroad at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The pilot program should be welcome news to H and L visa renewal applicants and their employers. These applicants now face long waits for visa appointments with the risk of being stuck abroad and disrupting their employment while they wait.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the visa backlogs and delays at U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Even now, significant waiting times for non-immigrant visa appointments persist, particularly in countries like India. To mitigate these backlogs, immigration and business groups have advocated for reinstatement of the domestic visa revalidation program that was terminated in 2004. According to Ms. Stufft, the pilot program will apply only to H and L visa renewals. Other non-immigrant work visa categories, such as the E, O, and P categories, will not be covered. More details will be announced in the future.

Ms. Stufft indicated that the new program will require the establishment of a new consular division in Washington, D.C. This and other challenges are probably the reason for the limited rollout. It is hoped that the domestic visa revalidation program will eventually be restored in its complete pre-2004 form.

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