U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced this week that it would temporarily suspend premium processing for H-1B visas for for-profit companies as the April 2-6 application period approaches. It’s tempting in the current environment to see ominous intent behind the announcement, particularly after premium processing—which expedites the process—was suspended last year for six months. In fact, there comes a point almost every year when USCIS suspends premium processing due to the volume of applications.
Still, the anxiety of those about to enter the H-1B visa lottery is understandable. The Trump Administration has introduced even more uncertainty into the process. Its “Buy American, Hire American” initiative signaled an interest in decreasing the number of jobs that go to H-1B visa recipients. Attorneys expect increased scrutiny of applications including calls for additional “requests for evidence.” Last year, the percentage of H-1B visas granted—82.4 percent—was the lowest in the last three years, and the percentage challenged—46.6—was the highest during that time span.
As has been the case with much of this administration’s immigration decisions, the effort to limit the number of H-1B visas is based more in belief than the realities of the job market. “In order to create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad,” the executive order reads, but America has an unemployment rate of only 4 percent—a level that many economists consider a practical floor. A lower unemployment rate has historically been a precursor to a recession.
The H-1B program only allots 85,000 visas a year for private companies. If none of those leave or change their immigration status at any time during the six years covered by the visa, that means a total of 510,000 people a year work in the U.S. under H-1B visas. No one who has studied the impact of H-1B visas on the work force puts the number of foreign workers in the States because of the visa at more than 900,000 after including cap exemptions and exceptions. In an American work force of roughly 126 million people, those in the country as a result of H-1B visas make up less than one percent, even using the most generous estimates.
Still, the policies in place are those that applicants must deal with. Because the window is now only weeks away and premium processing can no longer be counted on, those who wish to apply for entry into the H-1B visa lottery need to start the process as soon as possible. The possibility of increased scrutiny means the process could be more challenging to navigate than ever before, and applicants should seek the help of an immigration attorney experienced in H-1B visas. Those lawyers can help anticipate some of the potential slowdowns and set time lines that improve the likelihood of success.