US visa: In a significant development, the United States is set to begin a pilot programme for domestic renewal of certain categories of H-1B visas in December. According to officials, the step is likely to benefit a substantial number of Indian technology professionals.
This comes months after the White House announced the plan during the state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June. Speaking to the media, Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, said that the demand for US visas is still very high in India.
Will Indians benefit from it?
"The wait time of six, eight and 12 months is not what we need and it is not indicative of how we view India. We want to make sure that Indian travellers can get appointments as quickly as possible. One way we are doing that is through the domestic visa renewal programme, which is focused very much on India. We are piloting that," she told news agency PTI.
The US State Department has decided to grant 20,000 visas to foreign nationals who are currently in the country over a three-month period starting in December. Stufft confirmed that as many as 20,000 visas will be given to foreign nationals and the vast majority of those will be Indian nationals living in the US. "Because Indians are the largest skilled group of workers in the United States, we hope that India will benefit quite a bit from this programme and it will prevent people from having to travel back to India or anywhere for a visa appointment to get their visa renewed. It will allow our missions in India to concentrate on new applicants," Stufft added.
Move comes after PM Modi's state visit to US
Even though the US State Department has been preparing to introduce this program on a trial basis for some time, PM Modi's visit marked the official announcement of it. The Indian community in the US has applauded and welcomed the proposal, which was stated in the joint statement and declared by Modi during his speech to the Indian diaspora at the Ronald Reagan Center.
In response to a question, Stufft stated that the first official notice of this would be released very soon in the form of a federal register notice, which will outline the instructions and include a description of all the necessary stages as well as information on who is eligible to apply in the first tranche. "But I can say that we are doing these visas here in the United States. So, the idea is for a visa to be mailed from the United States to us in Washington. We print the visa and process the visa, put it in the passport and send it back to someone in the United States," she remarked.
About H-1B visas programme
The H-1B is a visa in the United States that allows employers to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. A specialty occupation requires the application of specialized knowledge and a bachelor's degree or the equivalent of work experience. The duration of stay is three years, extendable to six years, after which the visa holder can reapply. A person in H-1B status must continue to be employed by their employer in order to stay in H-1B status. Laws limit the number of H-1B visas that are issued each year.
(With PTI inputs)