visa-ful thinking

Modi's visit would be the perfect time to make the lives of Indian workers in the US easier

The domestic stamping of H-1B visa renewals was stopped back in 2004 but could soon make a return

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Extending a diplomatic hand.
Extending a diplomatic hand.
Photo: Anna Moneymaker (Getty Images)

For nearly two decades, H-1B visa holders have had to exit the US to get their visas renewed—either by returning to their home country or getting it done at US embassy or consulate elsewhere. But the Biden administration could soon allow a small number of H-1B workers to renew those visas in the US itself.

The change could be announced as soon as today (June 22), while Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is on a state visit to the US, Reuters reported.


Indians, who get almost three-quarters of the visas doled out each year, stand to benefit the most.

The pilot program will also include some workers with L-1 visas, which companies use to bring employees from abroad in to fill managerial positions in the US, according to a February Bloomberg Law interview with Julie Strufft from the US department of state, which first mentioned the program. Indians also bag the largest share of L-1s.


The move comes as US president Joe Biden seeks to strengthen relations between the two largest democracies in the world, as a strategic move to counter China’s dominance amid growing US-Sino tensions.

A brief history of H-1B visa renewal stamping

Until 2004, H-1B renewals would be done in the US. But things changed when national security laws began requiring biometric data collection from visa applicants.

At the time, the US Department of State discontinued the practice of domestic visa renewals owing to a lack of facilities. The federal agency said it was not feasible to collect biometrics for applicants within the US.

Restoring visa stateside will save applicants not just time and money but also curb uncertainty and anxiety induced by long wait times away from their place of work and residence.


Quotable: Daunting wait times for H-1B stamp renewals at US consulates abroad

“Foreign nationals who are in the United States in H-1B status with a visa stamp that expired or is about to expire generally must return to their home country, secure an appointment at a US consulate, and wait for their documents to be returned. Due to consular appointment backlogs, this is a daunting process that not only jeopardizes employment opportunities, but also can create disruption to the employee’s or job candidate’s personal lives.”—Angel Valverde, associate at global employment and labor law practice Littler, in a statement dated February 28, 2023


H-1B visa, by the digits

65,000: Number of H-1B visas the US makes available to companies seeking skilled foreign workers each year


20,000: Additional number of H-1B visas for workers with advanced degrees

3: The number of years the visa can first be assigned for

Also 3: The number of years the H-1B visa can be renewed for

150 years: Wait to get a green card for Indians because of the country’s caps on skills-based green cards issued annually. H-1B and L-1 workers can get additional extensions with an approved green card petition


500,000: Indian visa holders the programme could help if the program is rolled out in full, as per conservative estimates by immigration lawyers

60-day: “Grace period” that thousands of tech workers on H-1B visas have been given amid rampant layoffs to find a new job with an employer who sponsors the H-1B, or return to their home country


198 calendar days: The average waiting time for an “Interview Waiver Petition-Based Temporary Workers (H, L, O, P, Q)” in Hyderabad, where most Indian techies are based and also apply for work visas, in February. It was only slightly less, at 171 days, in India’s financial capital, Mumbai

A non-exhaustive list of how the US is cutting down visa wait times for Indians

US visa services have been struggling to clear a backlog after the covid-19 pandemic brought visa processing to its knees across categories, from work to tourist visas. This year, the US embassies and consulates in India have made strides in bringing processing volumes and timelines back on track:


🏠 Allowed remote processing of interview waiver cases for applicants with previous US visas.

🗓️ Kept the US embassy in India’s capital, New Delhi, as well as consulates across four major metros—Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad—open on Saturday to accommodate applicants who require in-person visa interviews.


🕒 Consulate General Mumbai extended its weekday operating hours as well to make space for additional appointments.

👮 Staffing is being increased with a two-pronged approach: One, by sending dozens of temporary consular officers from Washington and other embassies will arrive in India to increase processing capacity. And two, by increasing the number of consular officers permanently assigned to the Embassy and Consulates.


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💸 What higher H-1B fees will mean for Indians hoping to work in the US