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H-1B visa applications to begin from April 2, premium processing stopped

Premium processing allows firms to apply for fast-tracking petitions for a higher fee and this is the second time the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has suspended it.

world Updated: Mar 21, 2018 22:40 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
H-1B Visa,United States of America,US Citizenship and Immigration Services
According to the USCIS, between 2007 and 2017, it received the maximum number of 2.2 million H-1B petitions from high-skilled Indians.(AFP File Photo)

The US has suspended premium processing of H-1B visas for 2019, for which applications will be accepted from April 2, but there will be no other changes and petitions will be randomly selected through electronic lottery as before.

Premium processing allows companies to apply for fast-tracking petitions for a higher fee. This is the second time in two years that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which runs the programme, has suspended it.

The rest of the H-1B selection process will remain the same, through a lottery.

“The lottery will be conducted as in past years,” wrote Joanne F Talbot of USCIS in response to an email query about changes, if any, specifically the lottery.

She added: “USCIS uses a computer-generated lottery to randomly select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general cap and the 20,000 cap under the advance degree exemption.”

The suspension will affect all petitions subject to the congressionally mandated annual cap, and it is expected to last until September 10.

There are “no changes”, Talbot said when asked about proposals to end the lottery and replace it with a system that prioritised petitions offering the highest wages to most qualified professionals.

The Trump White House has pushed for ending the electronic lottery, arguing it is gamed by companies – naming Indian firms Infosys, TCS and Wipro – that file more petitions than needed to stand a better chance in the random selection.

“Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery – and that’s wrong,” President Donald Trump had said last April after signing a “Buy American, Hire American” executive order aimed at boosting local manufacturing and employment.

“Instead,” he had added, “they should be given to the most-skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans.”

The H-1B visa lottery is different from the diversity visa lottery the US uses to promote immigration from parts of the world under-represented in the country. Trump and many among his aides want to end both.

Indians are the highest recipients of H-1B visas, accounting for more than 70% of those issued in 2016. A large number of them are generally hired by American companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, and not just by Indian IT companies with US operations such as TCS and Infosys, as has been argued by some H-1B critics.

To mounting concern in India – the government, IT firms and Indian IT professionals wanting to work in the US – the Trump administration has sought to tighten H-1B rules by re-defining specialty qualification, rescinding incentives to attract foreign workers such as work permits for spouses, and denying multiple extensions beyond the one allowed.

As of now, nothing has changed except premium processing, according to the USCIS. It has said it is suspending the service to deal with the pile up of long-pending petitions. “This temporary suspension will help us reduce overall H-1B processing times,” it said in an announcement.

First Published: Mar 21, 2018 09:43 IST