America halts fast processing of H-1B skilled worker visas

Makes India grate again as 15 day sign-off option binned to clear application backlog.

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The United States has suspended “premium” processing of H-1B visas, the skilled worker visa often used by technology companies to bring workers to the nation.

The H-1B is very useful for tech companies, because the first 20,000 applications each year by those with the equivalent of a US Masters degree are exempt from the 65,000-visa annual cap. Such candidates may choose to pay the US$1,225 fee to have their claims processed in 15 calendar days. Processing without the premium option can take several months.

Which is why US Citizenship & Immigration Services says it's suspended the premium offer because “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; and
  • Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark."

“This suspension may last up to six months,” the agency says.

Technology companies are big users of H-1B visas, arguing that workers using the visa help it to find the skilled people needed to keep technology industries humming. GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, for example, recently said the USA is rife with “technical illiteracy” in a call for the H-1B to be preserved.

Critics, including president Donald Trump, contend that technology companies bring in workers on H-1Bs and then pay those workers less than they would pay US citizens. Trump made a review of skilled migration a key election promise.

It looks like the Tweeter-in-Chief may be about to get some of what he wants. And with US Citizenship & Immigration Services saying the suspension of premium assessments is designed to make it easier for other H-1B applicants, it's hard for Silicon Valley to grate, again. Especially as the annual application season for H-1B visas kicks off on April 1st, a date on which applications are advised to have their paperwork ready ahead of the October 1st commencement of offers.

H-1B visas are also an issue in India, where they are viewed as a means for Indian technology companies to grow by bringing staff to work in US offices. Trump's policies are therefore seen as potentially discriminatory to India's tech titans. The Times of India therefore reported the suspension “ came even as New Delhi pressed, without success, for a fair and rational approach on the matter from a trade and business perspective.” ®


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