The pilot will address around 20,000 work visa renewals, or almost a tenth of the estimated 583,420 H1-B visa holders. The programme, which was proposed in February and formally announced in September during prime minister Narendra Modi’s US visit, will commence in December.
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Visa holders currently wait an average of 130 days, or 6-8 weeks, to secure a visa appointment in their home country, and cannot travel internationally without renewing the visa every three years.
Shivendra Singh, vice president and head – global trade development at IT industry body Nasscom said the initiative aims to reduce visa delays, relieve some of the backlog issues, and, crucially, alleviate the critical skills gap, and contribute to the enhanced competitiveness of the US economy.
“Nasscom has consistently advocated for visa revalidation within the US, engaging with the US government at multiple levels. A recent development includes the announcement of a pilot programme, scheduled to start in January, as part of the Joint Statement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Biden post the PM’s last visit to the US,” said Singh.
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The US faced massive visa processing backlogs, especially in countries like India and Mexico post pandemic. Being a huge source of talent for global MNCs, backlogs in India have been a cause of concern for the companies.Immigration expert Murali S Kakolu said the US government initiative would not only help employees save crucial time and finances spent in traveling abroad for visa revalidation, but it will also help the US embassy to optimize their resources for more business and travel- related applications. “This will certainly reduce expenses for H1B visa holders since they don’t need to travel to their home country or neighbouring countries like Mexico or Canada and use their time more productively while in the USA,” said Kakolu.
Post the pilot programme, there could be some clarity and expansion plans for covering other categories of work visas, he added.
“The main thing that applicants will be watching out for is the ‘eligibility criteria’ when the federal register comes out with the exact procedure over the next few weeks,” he said, adding it will be similar to the existing dropbox facility offered to eligible US visa applicants in India.
The US government step will primarily benefit incumbent immigrant technology talent to the country. This would allow eligible H-1B holders to renew their visas by mailing them to the US state department rather than travel outside the US and face uncertain wait times to secure an appointment at a US consular office before returning.
According to data from the US embassy released in September, 65% of H and L category visas, which are meant for employment, are held by Indians. In 2022, over 1.2 million Indians visited the US, making this one of the most robust travel relationships in the world. Indians now represent over 10% of all US visa applicants worldwide, including 20% of all student visa applicants.
Poorvi Chothani, managing partner at boutique immigration services firm LawQuest said that Indian citizens are not subject to US reciprocity visa fees. Hence as per the preliminary announcement, Indian applicants will be eligible for this program. She added that only H-1B applicants will be covered under this and not their children or spouses who are on H-4 visas. This pilot program also does not cover individuals who are on L-1 or L-2 visas.
“Only those visa holders who are eligible for interview waivers at a US consulate would qualify for visa-revalidation. For example, individuals seeking to renew their visa that expired in the last 48 months qualify for interview waivers in India and they would qualify But this is going to sunset at the end of 2023. If an applicant does not qualify for an interview waiver then she will not qualify for the revalidation program,” she said, adding that we will have to wait for the final announcement to determine the minute details and learn about the process.