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USCIS suspends fast track H-1B visa petitions to clear backlog

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has temporarily suspended fast-track H-1B visa petitions in a bid to address a backlog and lengthy processing times. This is the second year in a row that the temporary visa for highly skilled foreign workers and a pathway to post-study work for international graduates has been suspended.

This is the second year in a row that the temporary visa for highly skilled foreign workers has been suspended. Photo: Pixabay/jackmac34

It is expected that the suspension of premium processing of H-1B applications will not be revoked until 10 September 2018

USCIS caps the number of H-1B visas available each fiscal year, but demand often outstrips supply with 199,000 petitions received for 85,000 places in FY18.

“By temporarily suspending premium processing, we will be able to process long-pending petitions”

The H-1B visa allows US companies to employ graduate level workers in speciality occupations that require technical expertise such as finance, IT or architecture, and is used by many international graduates of STEM degrees to work in the US after their studies.

USCIS is limited to a cap of 65,000 new H-1B visa petitions that may be granted each fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 available to foreign nationals holding a master’s or higher degree from US universities.

Starting April 2, 2018, USCIS is to begin accepting H-1B petitions, and employers are expected to seek a high number of visas again this year.

Using the H-1B fast-track service guaranteed 15 calendar day processing time or a refund of the premium processing service fee.

However, in a statement USCIS said it will temporarily suspend premium processing facility for “all FY 2019 cap-subject petitions”, including those “seeking an exemption for individuals with a US master’s degree or higher”.

“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,” the statement said.

However, USCIS added that it will accept premium processing petition requests that are not subject to the 2019 ceilings and will consider requests to expedite H-1B petition processing on a case-by-case basis if the petitioner shows evidence they meet one or more “Expedite Criteria“.

It is expected that the suspension of premium processing of H-1B applications will not be revoked until 10 September 2018.

This is not the first time in 2018 that US visa restrictions have hit the headlines for the potentially “chilling” effect that a tightening of the rules could have on skilled foreign workers and international STEM students.

“Now more than ever, we need highly qualified workers with the skills employers need to succeed in the information economy”

Back in January, the Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Bill was proposed by Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake to tackle some of the issues associated with the H-1B.

If passed, it would remove the cap on H-1B visas for those with advanced US degrees, opening the door for many international students to stay and work in the US.

“Now more than ever, we need highly qualified workers with the skills employers need to succeed in the information economy,” Hatch said.

“High-skilled immigration is merit-based immigration, and we need a high-skilled immigration system that works.”

According to USCIS data of the 3,401,117 applications for H-1B visas between 2007 and 2017, 2,183,112 were for highly-skilled people from India. China ranked second with 2,96,313 applications.

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