Expedited processing for all H-1B visa petitions will be temporarily suspended beginning April 3, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Friday.
The visas enable a foreign talent to stay in the U.S. for three to six years via sponsoring companies. While different industries use H-1B visas to help fill their workforces, it is highly important to technology firms who are mostly in need highly skilled workers.
Former U.S. treasurer Rosario Marin even called for the expansion of the H-1B program last year.
“These are jobs that would be left largely unfilled if not for international workers, as our domestic workforce doesn’t consist of graduates with these skills in the enormous numbers we require,” she wrote in a piece published on CNN.
Marin, who is now the co-chair of the American Competitiveness Alliance, a coalition of organizations dedicated to advancing immigration reform, described the visa as “a cornerstone of the American economic system.”
“Without them, companies struggle to locate the specific people with the specific computer and science skills they need to grow, translating into an inability to expand, to create jobs, to scale up. The United States must work to address our shortage of students graduating with advanced science, math and technology skills, but until it does, American companies need high-skilled international workers, not only to compete but to survive.”
This suspension, which is expected to last up to six months, covers applications that were filed for the fiscal year 2018, SF Gate reports. The only exceptions, according to the agency, are the U.S. government applications, with special considerations for projects of national or military interest.
Business firms have an annual cap of 85,000 H-1B visas. The demand is too high that in the first week slots become available, applications already exceed that cap.
Normally, processing an H-1B application takes several months to complete. To determine whether a prospective employee is eligible within 15 calendar days, a company could pay an extra $1,225 processing fee.
The agency claims that the announced suspension will reduce the processing times of all pending H-1B visas, allowing it to work on “long-pending petitions, which we have currently been unable to process.” For 2017, the agency is working on 236,000 petitions.
While such suspensions are expected when the agency is dealing with a high volume of applications, they normally last just for a few weeks.
Observers have noted that the current suspension is the most widespread and longest in recent memory. Some expressed that the motivation behind the directive is highly suspect, hinting that the move may be linked to Trump administration’s broader immigration crackdown.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to reform the program during his campaign.
“I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program,” he proclaimed in an interview.
According to Bay Area immigration lawyer Martin Lawler, firms that have scheduled large-scale projects will be highly impacted by the suspension.
Universities and nonprofit groups, while exempt from the H-1B cap, usually apply for expedited processing.
There are those, however, that maintain the directive is merely a necessary step for the agency to cope with current challenges in its staffing.
“It has everything to do with an understaffed, overworked, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” immigration attorney Jason Finkelman was quoted as saying.
Regardless what the agency’s motivation behind it was, for immigration lawyer Piyumi Samaratunga, a significant number of organizations will definitely feel the blow. She also noted that the premium processing fee was a significant revenue for the agency.