High-skilled visa holders in US respond to pilot program of domestic renewal

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U.S. President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet with senior officials and CEOs of American and Indian companies, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

During Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to the US, the White House announced that holders of H1-B visas can get their visa renewals stamped on their passport in the US, and that US would open two brand new consulates — in Bangaluru and Ahmedabad – and India would open one on the west coast in Seattle.

These announcements are being celebrated by America’s employment-based visa holders, their employers, and families back in home country, second time over.

When H1B visas expire, the holders of the visa are required to go abroad to get it stamped again on their visas. Without the stamp they could not travel abroad and return freely to the US.

Under the program announced by the White House, among the achievements of Modi’s visit, “The U.S. Department of State will launch a pilot this year to adjudicate domestic renewals of certain petition-based temporary work visas, including for Indian nationals, who will no longer be required to leave the country for renewal in eligible categories.”

“The Department of State will implement this for an expanded pool of H1B and L visa holders in 2024, with the aim of broadening the program to include other eligible categories”, it added.

As a student Anirban Das came to the US in 2003.

“Visa stamping in the US was very much a reality back then, until it was stopped in 2004, as an aftermath of 9/11, and as a part of the Patriot Act”, Das says. “The whole program was changed and since then visa holders must travel to their home country to get stamped,” he adds.

While he waited over a decade for his Green Card, he was forced to make travel plans to India every three years to get stamped to be allowed to continue living his American Dream.

Tired of zero reforms in US immigration by the US Congress, he unofficially formed Skilled Immigrants in America as a Facebook group followed by more than 130,000 visa holders.

“We have been advocating for visa reforms for high skilled immigrants. Restarting stateside visa stamping and clearing Green Card backlog have been our top recommendations,” he says.

“However, it will be interesting to see how this program rolls out,” he said, pointing to the huge backlog that has been created over the years, exacerbated by COVID-19.

Indian citizens are by far the most active users of the US H-1B program and made up over 73 percent of about 442,000 H-1B workers in the year 2022 and are deeply impacted by consular delays.

Three brand new consulates

To ease visa processing and take the burden away from the only Indian consulate on the west coast in San Francisco, the  announcement regarding opening three brand new consulates- one Indian Consulate in Seattle, and two US consulates – one in Bengaluru and another in Ahmedabad, will help ease heavily backlogged immigration system.

Priyanka Patel with her husband Nishant Singh and son Vihaan. PHOTO: courtesy Neha Mahajan

“It is welcome news, but I hope consular staff is trained right”, says Priyanka Patel of Fort Worth, Texas who has been a US visa holder since 2011. She traveled in 2022 to India for her visa stamping and had to undergo what can only be called a consular nightmare, she indicates.

“Upon landing in India, I was stationed at my hometown in Nagpur while the drop box appointment was in Delhi”, she recalls.

“I was asked to submit the same documents three times over, in a span of 2.5 months, they just wouldn’t look at already submitted documents. It was mental, financial, and physical trauma,” she adds. “I was forced to travel between Nagpur and Delhi on short notice and had to cancel all my plans to meet my family,” she continued.

“I hope with two new consulates the availability of visa dates and processing will be faster and the process more transparent”, she hopes.

A hope to end the uncertainty of US visa stamping

Ashwin P with his kids Ayush (13) and Rhea (9) celebrating Father’s Day in their home in Ohio. PHOTO: courtesy Neha Mahajan

After nine long years Columbus resident and longtime H1-B visa holder Ashwin P is going to visit his hometown in Pune, India this July. On his last visit to India in 2014 his son Ayush was only four years old, and his daughter wasn’t born. The kids are now 13 and 9 years old respectively. It is worth noting that he first came to the US in 2010 and is stuck in the Green Card backlog.

What took him this long to decide to travel? ‘Stamping issues’ -he says.

“When you live in an apartment, a car is the most expensive possession, but once you buy a house, you set your roots and hundreds and thousands of dollars are at stake”, he said.

While the visa stamping fee may just be a couple hundred dollars, it’s the uncertainty of getting a stamped visa on the passport that drives folks like Ashwin P away from visiting their homeland for years together.

This often means missing birthdays, funerals, and other important life events. “How will anyone pay mortgage when you are stuck in administrative processing outside of the US with no certainty of decision?” he questions. “For my July 2023 appointment I booked my stamping appointment back in October 2022. During COVID, availability of stamping dates was over 800 days. What does one do in case of emergency? It’s inhumane to treat visa holders who have already gone through several rounds of verification for years for a redundant process,” he adds.

With the announcement Ashwin hopes the US Congress can address the root cause of all his problems- decades long Green Card problem rather than offering band-aid fixes.

However he is hopeful to take advantage of visa stamping in the US to visit his aging parents often and his kids can create a bond with their grandparents.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden wave and gesture to the crowd as they stand on the Truman Balcony of the White House after an official State Arrival Ceremony held at the start of Modi’s visit to the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Amidst the current US immigration system where ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ has been a standing demand from all sides, the northern neighbor is set to take advantage as they’ve announced the roll out of new immigration program that attracts US H1-B visa holders.

As part of Canada’s International Mobility Program starting July 16 those on H1-B visa can apply to live and work in Canada.

“Great to see a country adjust their immigration policies based on their economic needs and treat their immigrants with respect and dignity by adding easier pathway to PR, it is a win- win for both the H1-B immigrant and Canadian economy,” Das adds.

H1-B visa holders believe it is time for US Congress to look at immigration as an advantage to the US economy, stop band-aid fixes and end its discriminatory birth country quota for high skilled immigrants.

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