The US state department will launch a pilot program to allow workers on H1-B and L-1 visas to renew their documents without leaving the country, according to media reports.

Domestic visa renewals were discontinued in 2004 following Sept. 11 security concerns, and for the past 20 years, the visa holders have been required to travel outside the US to a consulate office in order to renew their visas, according to an article by The Wall Street Journal on Mint.

The reintroduction of visa renewals stateside will be welcome news to foreign nationals who in recent years have waited months and sometimes even years to apply for a renewal of their visa with the consulates abroad, Min Kim, attorney at law firm Chugh, wrote in a blog post. The stateside renewal option is expected to help reduce visa application backlogs at consulates overseas where demand remains high, particularly in India.

However, details are still sparse in terms of when this pilot program will be launched this year as well as how many foreign nationals in H-1B or L-1 status will be eligible to apply, according to Kim.

“As it is a pilot program, it is widely believed that the government agency will at first limit the number of eligible foreign national workers who might benefit from stateside visa processing,” Kim stated. “Thus, not all foreign workers in a visa status will immediately have this option upon the program’s launch. For now, it is believed that initially only some H-1B and L-1 workers will be granted the option to apply for visa renewals domestically. The criteria the State Department will use in selecting the pool of H-1B and L-1 workers eligible for this benefit is currently unknown.”

H-1B visas, especially popular in the tech industry, allow employers to add foreign workers for two three-year periods, although workers can apply for multiple extensions with an approved green card petition, according to Bloomberg Law. L-1 visas are available for employers that want to transfer managerial workers to the US from overseas offices.

Restoring stateside visa renewals will save applicants from having to leave the country and will reduce the workload of consular offices abroad, Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, told Bloomberg Law in an interview.

“We all saw during the pandemic how difficult it was for these people to return to their home country and often not be able to get visa appointments to come back to their home, the United States,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to address initially with this.”