On April 3, 2017, the annual H1B visa application season will open again with 65,000 standard visas and 20,000 US graduate degree only visas available.
The last few years after the Great Recession has seen the return of the H-1B visa lottery because of the massive (200,000+) visa petition applications received in the first few days following the April open date. This has meant both that the demands from the US economy and largely the private sector in growth areas like technology and the sciences are not being met but also that otherwise fine applications are being declined or not considered because they were just not being picked.
Well 2017 has brought a new dynamic that could bring down much of the most comprehensive professional employment visa in US immigration. President Trump and his administration have sought to undermine lawful US Immigration from the moment they have taken office with disastrous results and strong rebukes from the US Judicial system.
Unfortunately much of the US Immigration system is based on agency and individual personnel discretion. Therefore things likes denying a petition based on technicalities or just because a officer believes a petition is not “legitimate” or in the US national interest in some way. This could also be because of something obscure about the employer, the role or the foreigner can also result in denials. Additionally by slowing down the approval process itself meaning that both the foreign candidate and the employer might have to abandon the petition because of personal life circumstances and/or urgent business need.
So all of the above is already turning many employers away from hiring as well as the additional scrutiny likely coming over the prevailing wage requirement. Now the USCIS has said they are going to suspend the premium processing program which cost employers/filers an additional $1,225 USD. This program guaranteed a response one way or another 15 days following the official receipt of the H-1B petition application.
Many employers relied on this to be able to make business plans knowing that while an approval doesn’t official take effect until October 1 of the year, it meant that through programs like F-1 Visa OPT, ability to work during pending petitions with changing employers with the H-1B portability provision, during the renewal process or just general planning knowing that staff would be working soon, allowed business to continue.
Foreigners also relied on this for life certainty and then things like planning housing, children’s schooling, dealing with affairs in their previous location and just general life issues.
With the combination of longer overall processing times, extra overall scrutiny on visa petitions with roles/employers/employees, harsher interpretations of prevailing wage, the lingering uncertainty over the attempted travel and muslim bans and now this suspension of premium processing, we can expect a far worse H-1B visa season for all.
Ultimately the losers are everyone because as we have talked about before, foreigners are net positive contributors to the US economy and disproportionately are founders of the most successful US companies today as well as recipients of US graduate and PhD degrees and overall STEM degrees.
A sad time for us all …