Coming Soon: Visa Stamping in the USA
Julie Strufft of The US Department of State recently announced in an interview that they intend to roll out a pilot program later in 2023 to enable stamping stateside in the USA. It comes as a huge surprise, a pleasant, and a potentially life changing one for those on H-1 and L-1 visas.
The announcement of the pilot program is a huge relief! The State Department had indicated reintroduction of the automatic visa revalidation (AVR) in the USA sometime last year. However, in the absence of a definite timeline, no one knew it would be this quick! Immigration and positive announcements hardly go together. Last many years have been a testament to policy changes that only make an immigrant’s life more miserable than it should be in this ‘land of immigrants.’
Visa renewals within the USA were a reality until 2004, and then were discontinued
Until mid-2004, The State Department had a robust US Visa stamping program domestically within the US for visa renewals, including H-1 and L-1. Visa renewals within the USA were a reality until it was stopped by The State Department in mid-2004, citing interview and biometric requirements that went into effect post 9/11. It was decided to use the capabilities of US consulates across the globe.
Since 2004, those on H-1 and L-1 visas must exit the USA to get US visa stamping done either in their home country (preferred by attorneys) or another country that allows third-country nationals to get visa stamping in their country, to be allowed to return to the US.
COVID Made Availability Of Visa Dates Worse
COVID brought many restrictions along with it and countries that used to allow third-country nationals to get stamping in their country shut their doors, just like US embassies shut theirs during the peak of COVID, resulting in huge backlogs, leaving visa holders stranded. Hundreds and thousands of visa holders could not travel back to attend to their sick parents, who often live alone, or, attend funerals, weddings, child births and other life-changing events! As is expected in adversity, someone’s misery is another one’s business idea. Some folks who call themselves ‘agents’ bulk book any visa dates made available by the US consulate, charging hundreds of dollars per applicant. For a family of three, this would mean an additional couple of thousand dollars. Scores of WhatsApp and telegram groups are filled with visa holders anxious and frantic to find an appointment, to be able to go home and come back safely to their jobs and families in the USA.
My husband, Ashu Mahajan, was stuck in India back in April 2021 when suddenly US consulates were shut down because of a spike in Covid numbers. He couldn’t come back to the USA because he didn’t have a valid visa stamp. Thanks to the outpouring of support, we got from the media and Senator Bob Menendez, he was able to find an appointment date and come back. Had automatic visa revalidation been available at that time, he and at least a few thousand like him wouldn’t be stuck for months in their home country, jeopardizing their jobs, visa status and life in the USA!
Recent tech lay-offs have come as a double blow. Imagine being in India waiting for a visa appointment and being laid-off from your job because visa appointment is taking too long; this is a harsh reality.
What Is The State Department Waiting For?
The State Department has an existing manual to roll this program out and are already a couple years late in reintroducing this program. Automatic Visa Revalidation within the States would save H-1 and L-1 visa holders from months of unnecessary agony.
Until the full scope of this program is known and the program is rolled out in its entirety, there will be missed births, weddings, funerals and other important life occasions; visa holders will not be able to go back to attend to their sick parent and agents who block the appointment booking system to charge a hefty amount to sell dates to visa holders would continue to flourish while visa holders will continue to live a life in agony and uncertainty.
Neha Mahajan is a long time high-skilled immigration reform enthusiast. She is currently business development and outreach manager at CHUGH, LLP.