According to recent reports regarding statements made by the United States State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the agency plans to introduce a temporary pilot program later this year that will allow H-1B and L-1 nonimmigrants (and presumably, their dependents) to apply for renewal of their visas while remaining in the U.S. At present, nonimmigrant visas can only be obtained from a U.S. consulate after, in most cases, a personal appearance.
Under the pilot program, which revives a domestic visa revalidation program that existed until 2004, an H or L visa holder would be able to mail his or her passport to a designated State Department location (likely in the Washington, D.C. vicinity) with a request for visa revalidation. Once processed and approved, they could expect their passport with the revalidated visa to be returned by mail.
There has been no indication yet of how long the revalidation process under the pilot program will take or if a fee will be required for the process. It is also not clear how close to expiration the visa to be revalidated must be to qualify for the program. Under the prior domestic revalidation program, the remaining validity of the visa could not be more than sixty (60) days and visas that had expired over a year ago could not be revalidated. The State Department has also not indicated how it plans to take the biometrics of visa revalidation applicants. We anticipate a system similar to that in place at USCIS Application Support Centers may be implemented.
The visa revalidation pilot program has been reported to initially only be available to persons holding H or L visas, but may be expanded to accommodate other nonimmigrant classifications. The program is expected to only be available for visa revalidations; those who are applying for visas for the first time will likely still be required to apply at a U.S. consulate overseas.
The State Department’s pilot program for domestic visa revalidation, if implemented, will hopefully be effective on an indefinite basis for all nonimmigrant classifications. One important and likely effect of a domestic visa revalidation program is that it would significantly reduce the visa application backlogs and processing times of U.S. consulates worldwide. We expect that there will be many applications filed under this program as H and L visa holders try to avoid the expense and delays involved in traveling overseas for in-person visa applications. T&S will continue to monitor the developments of this potential pilot program and provide updates as they arise.