As part of a new “people-to-people” initiative, the Biden administration has announced the launch of a limited pilot program to permit recipients of certain employment visas to renew their visas without leaving the country.
This announcement occurred after a bilateral meeting between President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Tens of thousands of H-1B workers must leave the U.S. each year to renew their visas, disrupting work schedules and potentially putting their residency at risk. By allowing workers to renew visas within the U.S., the pilot program could save recipients and their employers significant time, effort, and money by permitting them to renew visas in the U.S.
This pilot program is not as groundbreaking as it may seem. For many years, many people could renew their documents in the U.S. However, in 2004, new laws required H-1B holders to return to their home countries to have their visas renewed. In fact, for nearly two decades, the only place to get these renewal stamps was at a U.S. consulate outside of national borders. The new program would be a return to the prior state of the law.
Currently, there is no date for when the pilot program will go into effect. Until it is officially implemented, H-1B holders will still need to return to their home countries to have their visas renewed. However, an official announcement about the program is projected to be made later this year.
How Renewing Visas Currently Works
H-1B visas last for three years and may be renewed for an additional three years. Without an approved renewal petition, the vise expirea, and recipients and their families must leave the U.S.
The renewal process is similar to the initial petition, with a few important differences. First, there is no need for current visa holders to go through the lottery again. They can petition for renewal if their employer wishes to continue sponsoring them. Second, since they have already had one petition approved, they likely have all the documents necessary for their application on hand, making the renewal process simpler.
There is one hitch, though. When people apply for their initial U.S. employment visa, they must go to their local U.S. consulate for an interview and visa stamp. This is usually no problem because they live in a country with a consulate.
However, if someone already lives and works in the U.S., they cannot renew their visa locally. Recipients’ home consulates are currently the only places to issue these stamps. As such, they need to return to their home country to get their visa stamped, then return to the U.S. with their new stamp. Obviously, this is a time-consuming and costly process. It’s also the only way H-1B and L-1 visas can be legally renewed at the moment.
Benefits of In-Country Renewals
Allowing workers and students to renew visas within the U.S. would have benefits for employers and visa holders alike, including:
- Cost: Many employers assist with or cover the costs of the renewal round-trip. By permitting renewals to occur within the U.S., the travel costs are reduced to a mere fraction of the expense of international flights.
- Time: Even when everything is scheduled carefully, most employees need multiple days off work to return home and have their visas stamped. If a problem arises, it could be weeks before an employee can return to the U.S. with a stamped visa, wasting everyone’s time.
- Effort: International travel is tiring, and scheduling consulate appointments while abroad is difficult. In-country renewals will streamline the process significantly.
- Accuracy: The current renewal process has many potential points of failure. Permitting renewals in-country would make it significantly easier to avoid errors that could bar an employee from returning to the U.S.
In short, it would be better for both employees and employers, improving efficiency, reducing errors, and preventing lost time and money.
Speak to Immigration Experts About Renewing Visas
Visa renewals should not be taken lightly. Employers and current H-1B beneficiaries must give the process the focused attention it deserves to ensure the employment relationship can continue. At Litwin & Smith, we are proud to help. We have decades of experience ensuring our clients successfully renew visas with minimal complications. Learn more about how we can assist you by scheduling your consultation today.