US suspends expedited processing for H-1B visas


MAMOSA Report — The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Friday that it will temporarily suspend expedited processing for all H-1B petitions starting April 3.

H-1B visas allow highly skilled workers to spend three to six years at sponsoring companies in the U.S. They are particularly important to Bay Area technology firms, which use them to fill engineering positions.

This suspension, to last up to six months, will apply to applications filed for the fiscal year 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

There is an annual cap of 85,000 H-1B visas for for-profit companies. Applications typically exceed that cap within the first week they become available. The agency received 236,000 petitions for fiscal year 2017. Before the agency’s move Friday, a company could pay an extra $1,225 processing fee to know within 15 calendar days whether a prospective employee is eligible.

Decisions on the visas are ultimately made by lottery, however, and access to the expedited track does not impact an applicant’s probability of a winning lottery entry.

It normally takes several months for an H-1B application to be processed. The citizenship and immigration agency said on its website that the temporary suspension will help it reduce overall H-1B processing times and work on “long-pending petitions, which we have currently been able to process.”

It is normal for the USCIS to suspend expedited processing for a few weeks each year so it can deal with the high volume of applications. But Martin Lawler, a Bay Area immigration attorney, said this is the most widespread and longest suspension he’s seen. It will impact companies that are planning large projects and need a certain number of staff to develop those projects, he said.

It could also impact universities and nonprofits, which are exempt from the H-1B cap but often apply for expedited processing, attorneys said.

Piyumi Samaratunga, an immigration attorney at the law firm Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, said the suspension will significantly impact employers.

She said that she and her colleagues were baffled by the motivations behind the directive, adding that the $1,125 per premium processing application was a significant revenue stream for the government agency.

While it could be difficult to divorce the move Friday from the Trump administration’s broader immigration crackdown, some experts believed the agency’s decision to be apolitical.

A draft of an executive order for Mr. Trump’s consideration calls for the government to re-examine a range of visa programs to ensure they protect “the jobs, wages and well-being of United States workers.” This includes the H-1B visa program, which provides visas for highly skilled foreign workers.

Critics say the H-1B program, which is supposed to be used to bring in workers with skills that are scarce in the U.S., is too often used to bring in tech workers—largely from India—who are willing to work for less than Americans.

Three of the top five H-1B employers in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, were outsourcing firms from India, according to Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data analyzed by Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Between them, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Infosys Ltd. and Wipro Ltd. brought in more than 12,000 new H-1B workers that year. By comparison, large U.S. consumer-technology firms Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc. brought in about 2,000 such workers in all.

Jason Finkelman, an Austin, Texas, immigration attorney told San Francisco Chronicle the suspension “has everything to do with an understaffed, overworked, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” said adding that the wait time for an H-1B visa in California is currently about eight months.

However, Vivek Wadhwa, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley campus in NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, said the suspension seems like a message from the government that you “can’t buy your way into America.”

Some expedited service will still be possible, the citizenship and immigration agency said — for example, in the case of requests submitted by the U.S. government in which fast processing is of national or military interest.


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