In an interview with Bloomberg Law, a State Department official said the agency would begin a pilot program this year to allow certain foreign nationals to revalidate expired and expiring visas in the United States, without the need to travel abroad and apply at a U.S. consulate overseas. Planned for later this year, the pilot is expected to be limited to certain H and L visa holders; other limitations are also possible. Full implementation of a stateside revalidation program is likely to take some time.
In an effort to reduce the impact of significant visa application backlogs at U.S. consulates, the State Department plans to test a program that would permit certain H and L visa holders to revalidate their visas from within the United States rather than travel abroad to renew their visas at a U.S. consulate. According to a State Department official’s comments to Bloomberg Law, the visa revalidation pilot is expected later this year.
Much remains unknown about the pilot and the State Department’s plans to implement a revalidation program more widely. Immigration advocates have been urging the State Department to permit stateside revalidation as a means to alleviate the exceptionally lengthy visa application backlogs that developed at consulates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though many consulates have returned to pre-pandemic availability, several key regions – including India – remain severely backlogged.
A closer look
Stateside visa revalidation is not new. Until Summer 2004, the State Department permitted certain nonimmigrant visa holders to renew their visas by mail with the agency’s Visa Office in Washington, D.C. To qualify for visa revalidation in the United States, applicants had to hold valid E, H, L, O, P, or certain other nonimmigrant statuses, have been previously issued a visa at a U.S. consulate, and have been admitted to the United States in the same status as that sought to be revalidated. Visas could be revalidated in the United States in the period beginning 60 days before and up to one year after expiration.
Stateside visa revalidation was a popular option for foreign nationals whose home consulates had a high volume of applications and long processing backlogs. The program was terminated in 2004 because the State Department did not have a means of collecting applicant biometrics as required by national security laws enacted after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Visa revalidation remained and remains an option for certain diplomatic and international organization visas.
What this means for foreign nationals and employers
The State Department’s anticipated revalidation pilot is hopeful news for foreign nationals faced with the prospect of long waits for nonimmigrant visa renewal at U.S. consulates and the disruptions caused by those waits. However, foreign nationals and their employers should be aware that the pilot is likely to be narrow in scope and time-limited as the State Department tests its ability to reimplement revalidation. It may take months or longer for the State Department to roll out a full stateside revalidation program after the pilot is completed.