Immigration Agency to Delay Premium Processing for H-1B Visas, Lawyers Say

Lemuel D’Souza is moving out of his shared home in Santa Clara. D’Souza, an H-1B holder from India, is leaving the country and returning to India rather than wait years for a green card that would allow him to start his own business here. H-1B visas are commonly used in Silicon Valley as a way to staff high-skilled engineering positions.

Officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services indicated that the agency will temporarily delay the ability to fast-track certain H-1B applications this year, according to multiple lawyers. The move means some employers may not learn as quickly whether they can staff a position with a foreign worker.

Agency officials discussed this move in a teleconference on Tuesday called the National Stakeholder Engagement on the H-1B Cap, according to the lawyers, who listened in on the meeting.

H-1B visas are heavily used by Bay Area technology firms to fill engineering positions. More than 15 percent of Facebook’s U.S. employees held the H-1B visa in 2016, for example, according to a Reuters analysis.

This delay would only apply to H-1B applications from for-profit companies, which are subject to an annual cap of 85,000 visas, according to Sharon Barney, an immigration lawyer at Leech Tishman who listened to Wednesday’s conference.

The immigration agency said Tuesday that it has not announced plans to suspend premium processing, as it did last year for several months. However, it did not deny that visa processing may be delayed. It’s not uncommon for the agency to delay premium processing for a few weeks a year to deal with the influx of applications, though a full-on suspension — in which the agency declines to accept applications altogether — is less common.

It is not clear when the delay will take effect, but it is expected to happen after the annual lottery for H-1B visas. It is unclear whether the delay will last just a few weeks after the lottery opens April 2, or if it could stretch longer.

The immigration agency often receives far more applications than there are available visas, so 85,000 applications from for-profit companies are randomly selected through a lottery each year that is held during the first week of April. This year’s lottery winners would be eligible for work in fiscal 2019. But workers whose prospective employers win the lottery must go through additional evaluation from the immigration agency before they are cleared to work in the U.S. — and that is where the issue of faster or slower processing comes in.

By Trisha Thadani for SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
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