The Biden administration will make it easier for Indians to live and work in the U.S., using Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit this week to help some skilled workers enter or stay in the country, three people familiar with the file said.
The State Department may announce as early as Thursday that a small number of Indians and other foreign workers with H-1B visas will be able to renew their visas in the US without going abroad, a source said. A pilot project that can be expanded in the coming years.
Indian nationals are by far the most active users of the US H-1B program and account for 73% of the estimated 442,000 H-1B workers in FY 2022.
“We all recognize that the mobility of our employees is our biggest asset,” another US official said. “So our goal is to approach this problem in a multidimensional way. The State Department has already worked hard to find creative ways to change things.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the types of visas that might be considered or the timing of the pilot’s launch. The proposed pilot program was first reported by Bloomberg Law in February.
“The pilot program will begin with a small number of cases, with the intention of expanding the initiative over the next year or two,” the spokesman said, declining to define what a small number of cases would be.
Milestones are subject to change and are not finalized until notified. The White House declined to comment.
Each year, the U.S. government issues 65,000 H-1B visas to companies seeking skilled foreign workers, and an additional 20,000 visas to workers with advanced degrees. Visas are valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years.
Companies that have used H-1B workers the most in recent years include India’s Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, and Amazon, Alphabet and Meta in the US, according to US government data.
The ability of some temporary foreign workers to renew their visas in the United States will free up resources for visa interviews at consulates overseas, the spokeswoman said.
The pilot program will also include some employees on L-1 visas, which are available to inter-company transfers for a position in the U.S., one of the sources said.
Another source said a separate initiative to clear the backlog of visa applications at US embassies in India is finally showing signs of progress and is expected to feature in discussions between the two countries’ representatives in Washington this week.
India has long been concerned about the difficulties faced by workers, particularly in the technology sector, in obtaining visas that allow them to reside in the United States. According to the Labor Department, more than 10 million jobs were unfilled in the United States at the end of April.
Some H-1B visa holders in the U.S. are among the thousands of tech workers laid off this year, forcing them to find a new employer within a 60-day grace period or return to their home country.
The Biden administration has been fighting for months to improve visa access for Indians, trying to circumvent Congress’ political unwillingness to fundamentally reform US immigration policy. President Joe Biden wants to bring the world’s two largest democracies closer together, especially to better compete with China.
US visa services are still trying to clear the backlog since Washington halted all visa processing worldwide in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this backlash, some families have been separated for long periods of time, and some have taken to social media to complain about their situation.
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