Immigration Wrap 2024: H-1B revamp, student visa changes & costlier applications for the US

The United States welcomed more Indians in 2024 than ever before. In September, the US Mission to India achieved a significant milestone, processing one million non-immigrant visa applications for the year. This marked a 20% increase from the number processed in 2019. The US Embassy and Consulates in India reported that over 1.2 million Indians visited the USA last year, solidifying it as one of the most robust travel relationships globally.

According to the US Embassy and Consulates in India, Indians now represent over 10% of all visa applicants worldwide, including 20% of all student visa applicants and 65% of all H&L-category (employment) visa applicants.

The United States also made considerable changes in the immigration policies through the year, and have also laid out significant plans for 2024.

Here are the big visa and immigration changes Unites States announced in 2024

1. H-1B Visas: A revamp plan and a dometic renewal pilot

The commencement of the in-country H-1B visa renewal pilot program marked a significant development in 2024. Launched by the US State Department, this limited rollout allowed 20,000 participants to renew their H-1B visas within the United States. However, spouses of H-1B employees are excluded from this process, and participants must submit their visas to the State Department, refraining from international travel during the renewal period.Read in detail| H-1B visa domestic renewal begins January 29, 2024: Key dates to note, fees & documentsThe US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning substantial modifications to the H-1B specialty occupation worker program, aiming to modernize and streamline the process while enhancing integrity measures. One major change it will bring is barring related entities from submitting multiple registrations for the same applicant, strengthening anti-fraud measures.Read in detail| Four ways the United States is planning to change the H-1B visa system

2. Work permits: Relaxations for some, extended validity for others

In June, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) relaxed eligibility criteria for initial and renewal applications for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) in compelling circumstances. The extension primarily benefits certain nonimmigrants facing employment challenges due to ongoing layoffs and visa backlogs.

Read in detail| United States relaxes rules for immigrants facing compelling circumstances

In October 2024, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced an extension of the maximum validity of Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) to five years. This extension, applicable to both initial applications and renewals, primarily targets non-citizens in specific categories requiring employment authorization.

Read in detail| US extends work permit validity to five years for Green Card hopefuls

3. Student Visa changes: Higher scrutiny & more expensive

In a move to combat fraud and prevent the misuse of the appointment system, the United States has unveiled a new policy set to be implemented from November 27. As part of this policy adjustment, applicants for F, M, and J student visas must now input their own passport details while creating a profile and scheduling their visa appointment. Those who have submitted a profile or scheduled an appointment with an inaccurate passport number will not be accommodated at the Visa Application Centers (VAC).

Read in detail| US introduces new rules for Indians applying for student visas

The practice of “legacy admissions,” a longstanding tradition at prestigious American universities like Harvard and Stanford, is facing heightened scrutiny. Despite the growing criticism, it is expected that challenges to this practice will face resistance in a country that traditionally values success based on individual merit.

Read in detail| ‘Legacy admissions’ under fire at US universities

4. Citizenship Tests: Make them tougher?

Updates to the U.S. citizenship test are underway, raising concerns among immigrants and advocates who fear that the changes may adversely impact individuals with lower levels of English proficiency. The naturalization test, a crucial step toward citizenship, comes after a lengthy process that involves holding legal permanent residency for several years before eligibility for application.

Read in detail| US citizenship test changes are coming, raising concerns for those with low English skills

5. Visa applications get costlier, but may soon get easier

In a major step towards modernizing the visa process, the Biden administration has concluded a successful pilot project for issuing “paperless visas.” This initiative has the potential to eliminate the need for physical visa stamps or pasting them on passport pages. The initial phase of this innovative approach was implemented at the diplomatic mission in Dublin, with plans to gradually extend its implementation.

Read in detail| United States starts prep to turn your visa paperless; will this make your life easier?

Changes were implemented in 2024 regarding processing fees for F, M, and J visas, aligning them with the actual costs incurred by American consular officials.

Read in detail| US increases tourist and student visa fee

The USCIS has put forth a proposal for significant fee increases, impacting various immigration processes, including H-1B visas. The proposal, prompted by revenue challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, is part of a comprehensive fee review. The rule, expected to be finalized in April 2024, aims to address the agency’s ongoing financial shortfall.

Read in detail| US may hike the fee for a critical H-1B visa step by 2050% in 2024; make green cards applications costlier too

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