For the second year in a row, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has suspended premium processing for all cap-subject petitions for H-1B visas during the filing season for fiscal year 2019, which begins on April 2, Roy Maurer reports at SHRM:
“Premium processing will be delayed … to give USCIS sufficient time to take in the expected large numbers of filings,” said Scott J. FitzGerald, a partner in the Boston office of the global immigration law firm Fragomen. “We do not anticipate that this will delay notification of whether such cases have been selected in the H-1B lottery. Instead, this will delay the time in which the case is approved, subject to a request for evidence, or denied.” …
“The fact that USCIS is only now finishing up its processing of H-1B cap cases filed at this time last year is absolutely unprecedented,” FitzGerald said. “These delays are presumably related to the substantial increase in the issuance of RFEs for those cases. The fact that these cases, filed under regular processing, are receiving final determinations almost a year after they have been filed and almost five months after the requested start date [Oct. 1] is disappointing and seems a clear reflection of the agency’s new and tougher mission statement.”
Quartz’s Ananya Bhattacharya adds that the suspension will likely have a negative impact on the India-based outsourcing firms like Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services that are the most extensive users of the H-1B program, as well as the Silicon Valley tech companies that count on skilled foreign workers hired on these visas to meet their insatiable demand for talent.
USCIS suspended premium processing, which allows applicants to have their petitions expedited within 15 days in exchange for an extra fee, at the start of the 2018 application filing season last year. At the time, the agency also said the step was necessary to address a backlog, though many observers suspected that it was part of an effort by the Trump administration to slow down the process as a prelude to a reduction in the number of visas issued, as President Donald Trump has been deeply critical of the H-1B program.
The suspension lasted until late June, but at the same time, the administration also revoked a provision put in place to expedite visa processing times for business travelers, slowing down the speed with which these individuals can be cleared for travel to the US. In the intervening year, the Trump administration has taken steps to quietly crack down on the H-1B program, such as by challenging more visa applications and tightening standards for approval in ways that were seen as targeting outsourcing firms. The Justice Department has also warned employers against using H-1B visa holders as substitutes for US citizens, saying it would aggressively prosecute companies suspected of overlooking American workers.