The U.S. Department of State has taken the first step toward implementation of a new pilot program that would allow H-1B visa holders to get their visas renewed in the United States rather than having to leave the country and apply for their visas abroad at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
The State Department has sent regulations to the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (part of the Office of Management and Budget) for review and approval. The new program would require the establishment of a new consular division in Washington, D.C.
Visas are required for non-immigrants to re-enter the United States, except in limited circumstances. Before 2004, visas could be renewed in the United States, but that practice was discontinued. The State Department announced plans earlier this year to establish the pilot program, which would reinstate domestic renewal of some non-immigrant visas. The program was initially going to apply to L, as well as H-1B, visas. The regulations sent to the OMB apply only to H-1B visa holders, but if the pilot program is successful, it might be expanded in the future to other visa renewals.
We must await publication in the Federal Register to learn the details and the effective date, but we expect the regulations to take effect sometime in early 2024.
Once the regulations become effective, H-1B visa renewal applicants will be able to avoid the time and expense of travelling abroad to get their visas renewed. They won’t have to deal with the delays (though less of an issue now than they were during the pandemic) in getting visa appointments, or fears that they might be stuck abroad while the Embassy or Consulate undertakes “administrative processing,” which typically involves a false alarm about a security clearance issue. The program will also benefit employers of H-1B workers, who will no longer have to lose the services of their employees during these delays. Finally, the program should result in a reduced workload for the U.S. Embassies and Consulates, making the visa process abroad more efficient.