A large number of Indian technology professionals are likely to benefit from the expected launch of a pilot program in December for the domestic renewal of certain categories of H-1B visas.
In recent years Indians have cornered more than 70% of 85,000 H-1B visas issued to high-skilled foreign workers for employment with US companies.
This program, limited to an initial 20,000 participants, comes after the announcement of the plan by the White House during the state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June.
The pilot program aims to reduce wait times for visa appointments in India where demand for US visas remains high, Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for visa services told foreign media in Washington Tuesday.
READ: White House asks Congress to revamp outdated H-1B visa program (August 29, 2023)
The domestic visa renewal program, initially focused on India, will issue 20,000 visas over three months starting in December.
The majority of these visas will go to Indian nationals residing in the US. The goal is to prevent individuals from needing to travel to their home countries for visa renewal, allowing US missions in India to focus on new applicants.
The program is exclusively for work visas, specifically aimed at individuals living long-term in the US looking to renew their visas without returning overseas, according to Stufft. Although the program begins with a pilot of 20,000 cases, the State Department plans to expand it to more categories of workers throughout 2024.
The upcoming federal register notice will provide detailed information on the steps to be taken and eligibility criteria. The State Department will handle the visa processing within the US, eliminating the need for applicants to travel abroad for renewal.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy and its consulates in India achieved a historic milestone by issuing over 140,000 student visas between October 2022 and September 2023, marking an all-time record, according to the US State Department.
The embassy and consulates in India played a significant role in facilitating educational opportunities for international students, it stated Tuesday.
“From October 2022 through September 2023 (the 2023 federal fiscal year), the Department of State issued a near-record level of nonimmigrant visas of more than 10 million globally.”
Half of the US embassies and consulates worldwide experienced a surge in non-immigrant visa issuances, reaching unprecedented levels.
The statement also highlighted that the US embassy in India granted nearly 8 million visitor visas for business and tourism, surpassing numbers recorded in any fiscal year since 2015. They also issued over 600,000 student visas during this period, marking the highest figure since the 2017 fiscal year.
The State Department attributed these achievements to innovative measures taken by the embassy. The implementation of expanded interview waiver authorities played a crucial role, allowing frequent travelers who meet strict national security standards to renew their visas without the need for an in-person visit to the embassy or consulate.
“Looking to the future, we are exploring new technologies to assess opportunities to streamline operations, such as the option of domestic renewal in select visa categories,” the statement added.
Notably, in the previous year, the US Embassy and Consulates in India reported that over 1.2 million Indians visited the United States, establishing one of the most robust travel relationships between the two countries globally.
“Indians now represent over 10 percent of all visa applicants worldwide, including 20 percent of all student visa applicants and 65 percent of all H&L-category (employment) visa applicants. The United States welcomes this growth,” the statement affirmed.
Addressing the unprecedented demand for US visitor visas among Indians, US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti visited the US mission in New Delhi earlier this month to assess and manage the situation.