The premium processing time for the H-1B visa applications may be delayed again this year, according to multiple lawyers who listened in on a meeting with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
USCIS made indication towards this move, which will apply only on for-profit companies and probably after the annual lottery for the H-1B visas this year, during the teleconference last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
A spokeswoman for the agency said it will notify the public when processing will begin for fast-tracked petitions after the lottery, though she did not specify a date.
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USCIS did not deny that the visa processing may be delayed. It is unclear how long the temporary delay will last.
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 in 15 calendar days, instead of several months under the regular procedure.
While it’s common for the agency to delay its premium processing for a few weeks, last year’s six-months suspension – where it did not accept any applications at all – is far less common.
The suspension, which lasted six months and the longest experts had seen, impacted Silicon Valley, with some companies having had to hit the pause button on projects and ventures until they have enough manpower. Potential hires, on the other hand, were in limbo.
USCIS has said suspending premium processing was necessary to reduce a backlog of long-pending visa petitions and thus reduce overall H-1B processing times, Reuters reported.
The suspension was later lifted in stages.