Visa stamping is the name given to the renewal of visas issued to workers from other countries who perform important jobs in the United States. At present, workers have to return home to get their visas endorsed. They faced extensive waits from the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down consular services.
On Feb. 9, the Department of State announced the launch of a pilot program to renew H-1B visas for specialty occupation workers and L-1 visa stamps for temporary workers in the United States, potentially avoiding the delays and disruptions associated with workers returning to their native counties.
Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, acknowledged that the pandemic caused major issues for holders of specialty visas during a recent interview. The pilot program will only be available for H1-B and L-1 visa holders, but Stufft said it may eventually be expanded to other visa holders.
The announcement is great news for many visa holders who put off traveling abroad for fear they will not be able to return immediately to the United States, potentially losing lucrative jobs.
Although the delays associated with COVID-19 are now easing, visa holders should avoid international travel if necessary until the situation improves.
The pilot project should allow H-1B and L-1 visa holders to start processing referrals for visas in the United States later this year.
The move followed a recommendation from the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders last year. In making the unanimous recommendation, the commission noted applicants in counties such as India and Pakistan were waiting as long as 840 days to get a visa appointment.
The DoS will set up a consular division in Washington to start processing renewals. Applicants for H1-B and L-1 visa renewals should be able to attend appointments in the United States rather than traveling aboard. It’s unclear when the pilot program will start and how long applicants must wait for a visa stamping appointment for a three-year extension. The move is not unprecedented. Visa stamping took place in the United States before 2004 but was discontinued. Many immigration advocates have been pressing for a pilot program ever since.
The DoS performed stateside visa stamping for renewals, including C, E, H, I, L, O, and P visas up to 2004. The domestic re-issuance or renewal of visas was originally set up to provide services to foreign government officials and international organizations’ employees. It was extended to most visa holders in the United States before new border restrictions were imposed post 9-11.
The DoS cited the new requirement for officials to collect Biometrics on applicants for the demise of domestic visa stamping. In 2004, officials said that the US Department of State lacked the facilities to collect biometrics for applicants within the US.
The pandemic exacerbated the problems foreign workers faced when their visas expired. Bloomberg Law noted extremely long wait times at embassies and consulate offices abroad which left workers from overseas with a dilemma; put off traveling back to see family or find themselves stuck for months in their home nations while overburdened consulates and embassies outside the US processed their visa renewals.
The long wait times impacted employers as well as workers. H-1B visas are reserved for specialty occupations. Employers often struggle to hire IT workers or healthcare specialists and look to countries like India to fill the gap. Delays can thwart expansion in the United States.
Bloomberg spoke to Nilesh Patel, the founder, and CEO of the software business LeadSquared, who plans to expand the company’s foothold in the US by relocating from its headquarters in Bangalore, India.
“Our largest customers want to meet us before they do business with us. If you are building a large-scale business in the US, you need to get some sort of buy-in from people,” Patel said in 2022,” “That buy-in can’t happen if the CEO is not there.”
Patel sought an L-1 visa for a temporary intracompany transfer to the United States. He waited more than five months for the visa appointment required for a passport stamp to travel to the US, Bloomberg reported.
Although the renewal of visa stamping in the United States promises to help skilled workers from other countries, many questions linger about the pilot project and its scope. Our Virginia Beach immigration lawyers can answer your questions about H1-B visas and L visas for temporary workers and help you with this complicated process. Please contact us at (757) 464-9224.