Trump Administration Suspends Premium Processing for H-1B Visas

Trump Administration Suspends Premium Processing for H-1B Visas

US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Friday that it was temporarily suspending expedited applications for H-1B skilled worker visas, Newsweek reported:

[USCIS] said on Friday that starting April 3 it will suspend “premium processing” for up to six months. Under this expedited procedure, applicants can be eligible for visa approvals within 15 days, instead of a regular review period that can last for up to a few months. … USCIS said that during the suspension period, individuals still can request expedited consideration, but must meet certain criteria, such as humanitarian reasons, an emergency situation or the prospect of severe financial loss to a company or individual.

The agency says the suspension is meant to address a backlog of visa applications, but given President Donald Trump’s plan to crack down on H-1Bs, some see it as an opening move in implementing that plan, Quartz’s Itika Sharma Punit learns:

India’s IT outsourcing industry, which gets over 60% of its revenue from the US, has been fearing a rise in protectionism in its largest market ever since Trump got elected. The temporary suspension is in line with the US president’s anti-immigration stance and could hint at a tighter H-1B visa policy in the future, according to recruitment experts.

“The US government is clearly telling companies to not depend on the H-1B visa going forward,” said Kris Lakshmikanth, chairman of Headhunters India, a boutique executive search firm that works with several Indian IT companies. And that poses a problem, notably for India’s tier-1 IT service companies, such as Infosys and Wipro.

The Indian IT and business process outsourcing sector’s trade association expects the suspension to have an effect on the industry, albeit not a particularly severe one, PTI reports:

Industry body Nasscom on Sunday said that US’ decision to temporarily suspend the expedited premium processing of H-1B visas will lead to process delays for Indian IT firms too. However, Nasscom feels that the move will not be a “significant impediment” for the over $110 billion outsourcing industry. … “The current issue of the temporary suspension of premium H-1B processing will create some process delays for the companies – Indian and American — but is not a significant impediment,” Nasscom said in an emailed statement.

“Meanwhile,” Computerworld senior editor Patrick Thibodeau adds, “there are differing views about the value of fast-track processing” to US employers:

“While it may not affect a huge percentage of the H-1B worker population, those who will be affected may be impacted in a very significant way,” said Dimo Michailov, an immigration attorney with the Capitol Immigration Group in Bethesda, Md. But Carl Shusterman, a Los Angeles-based immigration lawyer, said that for some of his clients, particularly in the computer field, the extra fee isn’t worth it. “We tell all our corporate clients not to use it because they are just wasting their money,” Shusterman said.

… The U.S. has suspended premium processing in the past but for more limited time periods and only for certain types of H-1B petitions, but Michailov described the six-month suspension as “unprecedented.”

To Quartz’s Jake Flanagin, the suspension indicates that opponents of the H-1B program within the Trump administration are winning the day, but Flanagin criticizes efforts to reduce the use of these visas as “not a policy arising out of any real concern for the American economy”:

In fact, hampering the country’s H-1B program will likely do more economic harm than good. A study conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that, between the years 1990 and 2010, individuals working in the US on H-1B visas added 10 to 20% in annual productivity growth, resulting in more than $500 billion added to the national economy. And unless tech companies decide to lower the bar for these job openings, it’s unlikely that there are enough properly trained and educated American workers to fill these open positions.

President Trump’s plans for reforming skilled worker visa programs center on making them more “merit-based,” but the details remain hazy. At CNN Money, Octavio Blanco and Tal Kopan observe that other countries like Canada and Australia have points-based programs that give preference to immigrants with advanced degrees and needed skills, but the success of these programs may not be so easy to replicate in the US:

[Leon Fresco, former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation during President Obama’s administration,] said a points-based system may seem appealing, but there is one problem: Without a job offer, once these highly skilled immigrants arrive there is no guarantee that they can get work in their respective field. “If you do it solely on points and not on if the person has a job waiting for them, then you get a lot of ‘Ph.D cabdrivers,’” he said.

And focusing solely on highly skilled immigrants won’t help industries like farming and construction that rely heavily on low-skilled workers. Many employers in these industries say they are struggling to find workers and it’s nearly impossible to find Americans willing to fill the jobs.