The U.S. State Department is working on a pilot program that would allow some work visa holders in the United States to renew their visas in the U.S., rather than travel to their home countries.
The pilot program applies to qualified H-1B visa holders, a category that allows more than 85,000 highly skilled foreigners to come to the U.S. to work for at least three years.
The program is expected to eliminate the need to travel to a U.S. consulate abroad when a visa holder needs a status renewal.
It would “address the uncertainty often experienced by U.S. companies that employ H-1B temporary workers,” a Department of State spokesperson told VOA by email.
The State Department will evaluate whether this policy changes the availability of visa appointments globally, reduces backlogs and opens up appointments for individuals trying to get U.S. work visas outside the United States, according to a State spokesperson on background, a method often used by U.S. officials to share information with reporters without being identified.
Immigration lawyers have been urging the administration to reinstate domestic visa renewals, which ended in 2004. They say renewing a visa often means incurring significant expenses to travel abroad and secure an appointment at a U.S. consulate, something that can lead to months of delay, disrupting an employee’s life.
The spokesperson said the State Department is hoping to begin accepting renewal applications by the end of this year and would begin with the voluntary participation of a small number of visa applicants.
But before that, the initiative must go through the rule-making process, beginning with the White House.
Once that is done, the State Department will seek public comments and make any changes to the proposed rule. It will then go back to the White House for a final review, followed by publication in the Federal Register and implementation of the rule.
In 2004, the State Department stopped the domestic renewal of certain work-related, non-immigrant visas as the agency did not meet post-9/11 requirements, such as collecting biometric data, set by the passage of Section 303 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act.