US suspends premium processing for H-1B visas. Again.
H-1B visas targeted again. Source: Unsplash

The premium processing time for the H-1B visa applications will be delayed again this year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on March 20.

According to Quartz, the suspension of the expedited approvals facility – which allows applicants to fast-track the visa granting process – will last until September 10.

“This temporary suspension will help us reduce overall H-1B processing times,” USCIS said.

“By temporarily suspending premium processing, we will be able to …process long-pending petitions, which we have currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years.”

This is the second time in two years that the Trump administration has made such a move. Last year’s six-months suspension – where USCIS did not accept any applications at all – was the longest delay experts had seen, impacting Silicon Valley companies which had to hit the pause button on projects and ventures until they have enough manpower.

The H-1B visa programme allows US companies to employ foreign graduates in specialty occupations – Silicon Valley fills many of its high-skilled engineering positions via this programme.

American companies also use these visas to hire graduate-level workers, including those ie medicine, mathematics and information technology.

Currently, the programme caps the visas issued to 65,000 a year, with an additional 20,000 allowed for graduates with advanced college degrees from US universities. They are selected via an annual lottery which usually takes place during the first week of April.

Successful candidates can start work in fiscal year 2019, but have to go through another evaluation by the immigration agency before they are cleared to work in the US. How fast or slow this evaluation depends on whether an employer decides to pay the US$1,225 premium processing fee to receive a response within 15 calendar days, instead of several months under the regular procedure.

A new policy memorandum this year will also require officers to ask for more documents and evidence from hiring firms for third-party contract work. This will be used to prove whether the applicants have specific assignments in a specialty occupation, and whether these assignments last for the entire time as requested in the application.

If it is shown that the specified work is for less than three years, the visa would be granted for the shorter period. Previously, USCIS officers did not have to consider third-party contracts or the exact dates and place of third-party work.

Other new restrictions under the Trump administration making the H-1B visa application more difficult for  spouses to find work or for their children to continue living legally in the US under the visa after attaining legal age.

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