Growing requests for more information and visa processing delays are disrupting work and family lives.
In the summer of 2019, Kumar family from Texas, went for their routine visa renewal stamping to India. The family head was on an H-1B visa and his wife and children were on dependent H-4 visas.
The family had thought of spending summers with the extended family in India and come back just in time for Kumar to resume work and the kids to return to school. However, they were in for a surprise when they were handed a 221g slip seeking additional information.
The family quickly sprung up in action and everything that was required was duly submitted within a couple of days. However, weeks and weeks went by without any trace of an update on their visa status.
The couple had to extend their leaves and had to suffer losses at work and the kids had to miss at least six weeks of school before they got a go-ahead on their visa.
The situation was nightmarish according to the family because they could not enquire about the status of their application and had no certain answers on their future. They had to bear financial losses resulting due to missed job days and cancellation and re-booking of tickets several times.
But what hurt most according to Kumar’s wife was the fact that they had no explanation to give to their kids aged 10 and 12 on why they could not return to their own home and school.
In recent times, cases such as these are no longer isolated events. A lot of Indians are suffering the consequences of extra-long time taken during the administrative processing. The ongoing USCIS policy of extreme vetting has led to many unexplained delays and losses to the H-1B community.
While the long wait of H-1B extension applications and increased RFEs (request for evidence) are as it is taking a toll on those on work visas, 221g poses another stumbling block of indefinite uncertainty.
Netra Chavan, founder of the biggest H-1B community on social media says, “If after undergoing many uphill battles, once the H1B petition is approved and the same H1B applicant has to face an emergency and travels internationally, another hurdle to cross is that he must schedule visa stamping interview in their home country.”
“A lot of luck plays a role here, unfortunately, in case he/she is issued 221g and the case is undergoing administrative process, they get stranded for many months or in some cases for more than a year too.”
Chavan says, as “221g administrative process does not have any timeline or deadlines at all, the H1B visa holder is now in an overwhelming situation of unseen financial burden and immense stress of career uncertainty and job insecurity.
“In today’s world when everything is connected via internet then why do these administrative processes take months/year to make specific visa decision?” she asks.
“I would say, whether it is a denial or approval, just decide and let the H1B visa holder move ahead, and not jeopardize the career and life of a human being.”
“Is this fair decision-making process under humanitarian grounds?” Chavan wonders. “Also, why do employers and their attorneys don’t take action and let their own employee/H1B visa holder remain in a bubble forever?”
Most professionals on work visas say that they are ready to co-operate with the authorities in getting any timely papers or additional information required but they hit a wall, when they have to wait at least 180 days before they can even raise a request about their pending visas.
If the visa community experiences are anything to go by there has been an uptick in the wait times after a 221g is issued by a visa officer in the past few years.
A 221g form is a slip issued when the US consulate officer feels that additional information is required before they can arrive at a decision on an individual’s US visa issuance.
Some of the most common reasons a 221g slip is issued include employment and background checks.
Worryingly there is no set timeline on when one’s case would be ready after 221g is issued. All that one can do is wait.
In the summer last year, the case of Mazumdar family from Washington DC who were denied renewal of H-1B while on a visit to India got much attention.
While the Mazumdars finally got an approval after several weeks, the situation highlighted how nightmarish it can feel to not be able to return to one’s homes where one has been living for years and often a decade.
Left with no choice, many Indians consult an immigration lawyer but very often the process is not accelerated. As a result, many have chosen not to travel for stamping unless it’s an emergency.
Akash Shri says, “I traveled to Europe for a holiday and thought my stamping would be done also. But my two-week plan turned into two months as I got a 221g. I was lucky that I had relatives in Europe with whom I could stay. Imagine what would I have done otherwise?”
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