H-1B Visa Holders May Soon Renew Their Visas Without Leaving the U.S.
Up until 2004, some temporary visa holders were able in renew their visa stamp in their passports without having to apply at a consulate in their home country. However, this service was terminated almost 20 years ago, forcing countless skilled workers to face uncertainty about their ability to return to the U.S. each time they traveled abroad.
The U.S. Department of State has recently indicated that they are working on restoring domestic visa renewals, initially for H-1B and L-1 visa holders, within the year. The Department hopes to gradually expand the program to additional non-immigrant visas in the future.
What is the current visa renewal process?
H-1B and L-1 visas are employer-specific. They both authorize the individuals to work in the U.S., but only for the employer that sponsored their status. The H-1B and L-1 sponsorship starts with the U.S. company filing a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the employee is already in the U.S., that same petition serves as the basis to obtain, or extend, that employee’s H-1B or L-1 status. If approved, that allows the employee to remain in the U.S. and work for the sponsoring company.
However, that petition approval does not have travel authorization. This means that, if the employee wants to travel outside the U.S., that petition approval is generally not sufficient to allow them admission back into the country. Instead, the employee must apply for a visa stamp or visa foil at the U.S. Consulate abroad before they can return to the U.S.
How would the domestic renewal process help?
Under the proposed domestic renewal process, the employee would still need an approved employer-petition first. However, if they need to travel abroad, the new process would allow them to mail in their passport to a Department of State office inside the U.S., in order to obtain the visa foil in their passport before they depart. That way, they would not have to apply for a visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad.
Why is domestic renewal advantageous?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Consulates tasked with issuing visa stamps have been extremely backlogged. This is because they were completely closed for several months in 2020, and when they reopened they operated at reduced capacity due to staffing issues and/or social distancing measures. This has created huge bottlenecks in U.S. visa processing at consulates all over the world. In some countries, the U.S. consulates do not have any visa appointments availability for months. This has created extreme uncertainty for both visa holders in need of the renewal service, and for the U.S. companies for which they work, because there is no guarantee as to if, or when, they can return to the U.S. Therefore, having a domestic renewal option would help alleviate the backlogs for the U.S. consulates abroad, and would eliminate the concerns of the visa holders as to their ability to return.
We will continue to monitor the development of the domestic visa renewal program. If you have any questions regarding this program, or any other U.S. immigration-related issues, please contact Raluca (Luca) Vais-Ottosen at email@example.com or 608-252-9291.