On March 3, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, said that it will temporarily suspend the premium processing option for all petitions for H-1B visas. USCIS says that suspension may last up to six months.
As it stands now, individuals or companies who are filing for H-1B visas and want to expedite the process have to submit a specific form and pay a fee of $1,225, which is in addition to the several fees that are already required. If applicants do not get a response from USCIS within 15 days, the money is returned.
There is a limit of 65,000 H-1B visas issued every fiscal year, but the first 20,000 petitions filed for applicants that have earned a master’s degree in the U.S. are exempt from that cap, putting it at 85,000 total.
Currently, those eligible for an H-1B visa are “working in a specialty occupation” and “earning a wage.” USCIS defines “specialty occupation” as a position that requires the employee to have earned a bachelor’s degree in a related field, noting that “jobs in fields such as engineering, math, and business, as well as many technology fields often qualify as a specialty occupation.” Equivalent work experience, which USCIS characterizes as three years of work for every one year of education, also qualifies for an H-1B visa.
The hiring practices of many in the tech industry stand to be affected by the suspension. Last year, companies such as IBM, Accenture, Deloitte and Google were among the top applicants for H-1B visas.
Companies who look abroad to staff up argue that there is a talent shortage in the United States, while those who are against H-1B visas argue that the program takes away jobs from American workers. In the announcement, the USCIS says that the suspension is intended to allow the department to focus on requests for extensions and “process long-pending petitions.”
It appears the move will continue to put President Donald Trump and his administration at odds with the tech community, following the swift and vehement response against the executive order issued in late January that barred citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, banned U.S. admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely and suspended U.S. admission of refugees from any other country for 120 days.
That order, following a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Los Angeles, has since been suspended.
Today, a new executive order was signed by the president to enact “a 90-day ban on U.S. entry for new visa seekers from six majority-Muslim nations. … In addition, the nation’s refugee program will be suspended for 120 days, and it will not accept more than 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration. The new guidelines name six of the seven countries included in the first executive order, but it leaves out Iraq,” reports the Washington Post.The order will go into effect on March 16.