Friday’s announcement that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services will halt its expedited H-1B visa processing is raising concerns that businesses dependent on foreign talent could be impacted.
“This suspension is not good for American businesses by any means,” immigration attorney Tahmina Watson told CNN.
H-1B visas allow employers to bring skilled foreign workers into the US. Annually about 85,000 of these visas are issued via a lottery system that last year received some 236,000 applications. Processing the applications can take 3 to 6 months or longer, but for $1,225 a company can learn within 15 days whether its potential hire is eligible. Even then, the candidate’s application still must be among the successful lottery winners.
It is not unusual for the USCIS to temporarily suspend the expedited processing program for several days or a few weeks in order to deal with the mountain of applications. But immigration lawyers say the six-month long halt announced Friday is unprecedented.
Martin Lawler, an immigration attorney with a number of tech firms as clients, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the suspension is the longest and most widespread in his experience.
The suspension of the program brought a quick reaction outside the US, and in particular from India whose tech firms are among the biggest beneficiaries of H-1B visas.
“The suspension of processing for all H-1B visas is Trump’s gimmick as he wants to prove that he’s fulfilling his election promises. This is not good for Indian IT companies..,” said V K Mathews, founder chairman, IBS Software Services.
While tech firms account for about 65% of the H-1B visas issued annually, hospitals and clinics, especially in rural parts of the US are heavily dependent on foreign medical professionals. According to CNN Money, some 15,000 foreign trained doctors have been allowed in to the country in the last 15 years to work in underserved areas.
Envoy Global, an employment immigration service, offered employers advice about what to do and how to respond to the suspension. On the company blog, Envoy wrote:
If you have an employee in H-1B status and anticipate having to file an extension, please note that your employee will remain in valid working status for up to 240 days past your expiration date while the application is pending. You do not need an approval to remain in valid H-1B status.
If your employee needs to travel outside of the US and your H-1B visa will expire or has expired, unfortunately they cannot travel until their H-1B extension or change of status is approved. They will need the H-1B approval notice to get the visa and reenter.