Ask Sophie: Do I qualify for the stateside visa stamping program?

Sophie Alcorn, attorney, author and founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley, California, is an award-winning Certified Specialist Attorney in Immigration and Nationality Law by the State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Sophie is passionate about transcending borders, expanding opportunity, and connecting the world by practicing compassionate, visionary, and expert immigration law. Connect with Sophie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Dear Sophie,

I’m working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, which I received in 2022. However, I don’t have an H-1B visa stamp in my passport because I changed my status from an F-1 student to H-1B professional while in the U.S. Although I think I qualify for an interview waiver at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, I haven’t left the U.S. because of the uncertainty of whether I would be granted an interview waiver and the potential delay in returning to my job in the U.S. I heard a new visa stamping program will start in the U.S. soon. Do I qualify?

— Seeking Stamp

Dear Seeking,

Remaining in the U.S. after getting approval for your H-1B specialty occupation visa was the prudent thing to do! We have many clients who, like you, changed their status while in the U.S. and don’t have a visa foil — often called a visa stamp — in their passport. Since COVID, we have often advised individuals to avoid international travel unless absolutely necessary. This has been due to a combination of changing factors such as unpredictable visa appointment wait times and the discretionary waiver process for in-person interviews, which has been extended at least to the end of this year.

So, thanks for your question about the domestic visa stamping pilot program that the U.S. Department of State (DoS), which oversees consular processing for visas and green cards, announced last month in a notice published in the Federal Register.

The pilot program has been substantially scaled back from last year’s initial reports to limit the required resources. At the time, reports indicated that the pilot program would enable both H-1B and L-1 visa holders to renew the visa stamp in their passport while remaining in the U.S. In other words, they could get a visa stamp without having to travel back to their home country and wait for an appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

The pilot program’s goal

The State Department previously offered stateside visa stamping for many nonimmigrant visa renewals, including E, H, L, and O visas, until October 26, 2004, when the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, which was passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, required the collection of biometric data from visa applicants. Since then, the DoS has required all visa applicants, except for certain diplomatic and other applicants, to get a visa stamp in their passport at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

“The goal of this pilot,” according to the DoS notice, “is to test the Department’s technical and operational ability to resume domestic visa renewals for specific nonimmigrant classifications and to assess the efficacy of this program in reducing worldwide visa wait times by shifting certain workloads from overseas posts to the United States.”