A significant portion of the people who work in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in the United States are immigrants. Many of them have H-1B visas. Those are visas for which people in “specialty occupations” as well as those involved in research and development (R&D) can apply.
Under the current system, H1-B visa holders who need to renew their visas must do so in their home country. Obviously, this can be an expensive and inconvenient process for those working on projects in the tech, medical and other common fields for H-1B visa holders, and it can be a hardship for employers. It also puts a strain on consular offices in countries like India where many of these visa holders are from.
Backlogs, delays and inconvenience have only increased
Backlogs of renewal applications became even worse when international travel was restricted in recent years due to public health concerns. Of course, this is something that could always happen again. That’s just another reason why a less cumbersome system is necessary.
Welcome news came early this year when the U.S. State Department announced a pilot program that would let those with H-1B visas (among others) renew them here in the U.S. That’s how it was done in the past. However, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when stricter scrutiny was required, the State Department was unable to handle the renewals.
Now the details of the pilot program are being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is part of the Office of the President. That’s the final step before the updated regulations for renewal are published. However, the program may not be able to roll out before the end of this year. The plan is to eventually extend it to other visa holders.