Dear Sophie: Is there a domestic pilot program for H-1B and L visa stamping?
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I’m in the U.S. on an H-1B, which my employer recently extended. However, I don’t have an H-1B visa stamp in my passport because I originally had a change of status from F-1 STEM OPT.
It’s been more than three years since I visited my family in India and I would love to do that now, but I worry about how long it will take to get my H-1B visa to return to the U.S.
How long will it take to get an interview for an H-1B visa stamp? Am I eligible for a visa interview waiver? How do I get one? Can I do it from the U.S. this year?
— Hungry for Home
I’m sorry to hear you’ve been separated from your loved ones for so long. I truly admire your strength and resilience.
We’re excited to share some long-awaited news that may help you and others and provide some context about obtaining a visa stamp or visa stamp renewal.
Many people who have renewed their visa or changed to another visa category have put off traveling abroad for fear of not being able to promptly return to the U.S. We still advise our clients who need visas to avoid international travel if possible, because obtaining a visa can be so risky. The situation is slow to change and the current status quo might even remain in effect after this March’s upcoming H-1B visa lottery.
Even though the U.S. Department of State (DoS) has implemented policies to reduce the time it takes to obtain a visa stamp at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, delays continue.
However, there is a chance we may get a way to obtain a visa without international travel later this year.
Pilot program for visa stamp renewals in the U.S.
The DoS plans to run a pilot program later this year that will allow H and L visa holders to renew the stamps in their passports while they’re in the United States. Currently, visa holders must travel abroad to obtain a visa foil in their passports (often nicknamed a “visa stamp”) from a U.S. embassy or consulate.
The DoS plans to set up a new consular division in Washington, D.C., to begin processing renewals for H and L visas later this year, according to Bloomberg Law. Many people have been advocating for this for years. The DoS used to process renewals for many categories, including E, H, L, and O visas, domestically until 2004, when national security laws began requiring biometric data collection from visa applicants.
Since then, the DoS has required all visa applicants who go through the change of status process in the U.S., except for certain diplomatic and other visa applicants, to get a visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
Now, let me dive into your questions.
Waiting times for H-1B visa interviews
The DoS has a visa appointment wait times page that allows you to check wait times at U.S. embassies and consulates. The wait times can vary depending on where you are in India, but they change all the time.