In the latest development, the US announced that in order to clear the backlog of pending visa applications, it would temporarily suspend the ‘premium processing’ of H-1B visas from April 3.
The suspension of premium processing of H-1B visa does not indicate any change in the U.S. policy on work visas, a leading immigration attorney in the U.S. capital said.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has suspended premium processing in the past also, to clear the backlog of H-1B petitions, said Aparna Dave.
Premium processing involves a USCIS commitment to respond on a particular petition within 15 days, for an extra fee. USICS processes more than 85,000 new H-1B visas. The agency has to process amendments and extensions of people who are already in the U.S. on H-1B visas.
“As the number of H-1B visa holders in the U.S. is increasing every year, the time taken for processing extensions and amendments has shot up in the last couple of years, Ms. Dave said.
“Therefore, companies and employees started taking the premium route. An increasing number of premium processing applications further slows down the regular processing, as more and more people pay extra to get the case processed within 15-days, diverting the USICS manpower,” she said.
The emphasis on premium processing has stretched the time USICS takes for normal processing of extensions, and these days it is nearing 240 days, the maximum number of days an H-1B visa holder can work in the U.S. while waiting for an extension. The USICS has said on Saturday that it was suspending premium processing to clear long-pending cases.
Ms. Dave said the suspension of premium processing is not linked to Trump administration, but the panic among H-1B holders and companies have resulted in spike in premium petitions in recent months.
“Suspension is an internal decision of the USCIS and it does not signal any policy change. However, due to the change in the administration there has been a preference for filing H-1B petitions under the premium route, due to a fear that H-1B policy may change in the future,” she said.
“H-1B petitions are usually approved for three years. However in the recent years, USCIS has approved several petitions just for one year. Before the end date on the H-1B petition an extension must be filed. If within the H-1B approved period, the employee changes the company, or the work location of the employee changes within the same company, an H1B amendment needs to be filed. Every year, you have more than 85000 new visas added and the number of total H-1B visa holders is constantly increasing and the number of people seeking such amendments is also increasing,” she said.
India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar recently was on a visit to the US recently along with other high-ranking Indian officials, to put forth India’s view that the issue surrounding the visa regime was a matter of trade and not immigration. Several government representatives have earlier said that India was engaged with the administration of new US President Donald Trump, as well as members of the US Congress on concerns regarding the H-1B visa issue.