How do we know the Department of State (“DOS”) wants to implement a new program and why don’t we know many details yet?
This week, DOS sent a draft Federal Register notice to both the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and the White House for review. This notice is titled “Pilot Program to Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the United States for Certain Qualified Noncitizens.”
Because this notice has not been published, we do not yet know the full details of the program. Once it is published in the Federal Register, more details related to eligibility criteria for participation will become available.
The Federal Register is the official journal of the United States federal government that outlines all agency rules and public notices. It is published daily.
What details are publicly available?
So far, we anticipate the program will begin in early 2024 and will be limited, initially, to only H-1B visa holders. Other statuses, including H-4 dependents, are not expected to be included in this pilot program.
Additionally, we expect this initial pilot program to be limited to 20,000 applicants from countries such as India and China, which do not require a visa reciprocity fee. Applicants can check if their home country requires a visa reciprocity fee at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/Visa-Reciprocity-and-Civil-Documents-by-Country.html.
Finally, we expect this program will continue to expand after the initial launch allows DOS to solve any operational concerns.
Why is DOS pursuing this change?
The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed how ill equipped many U.S. Consulates were to handle large influxes of foreign national visa requests. Wait times for visa appointments at large consulates, such as those in India, exceeded a year, and processing times after appointments were also longer than before the pandemic. Thus, many foreign nationals found themselves outside of the U.S. for much longer than they anticipated, creating employment disruptions for them and their employers.
This pilot program and its anticipated expansion will eventually result in a meaningful decline in visa appointment wait times and processing times, which will allow both U.S. Consulates as well as U.S. employers to function more efficiently.
Zulkie Partners is watching this pilot program closely and will continue to publish information on the details of the program as they become available.