The Trump administration’s decision to halt fast processing of H-1B visas could disrupt the operations of many technology companies and quash the plans of thousands of immigrant workers.
The Trump administration said in January that it would make changes to how the visas were issued, which at the time was seen as a cause for concern in Silicon Valley. Around 65 percent of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued each year are for work in the tech industry. Many of these visas are for jobs inside India’s outsourcing firms, but all the biggest names in tech also apply for thousands of visas each year.
The main setback for companies that rely on employing skilled staff from abroad is waiting time. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reminded applicants in a press release on the matter that “petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage.”
Expediting the application will also cost $1,225, although it will reduce what is normally a three- to six-month waiting time to under 15 days. Even if a visa application is expedited, it still doesn’t mean it will be issued, since all applications, 233,000 in 2015, are put into a lottery.
Tahmina Watson of Watson Immigration Law, an immigration lawyer who talked to CNN about the move, said the changes would not be good for American businesses: “The message specifically mentions they want to bring down the backlogged time, but I worry about my clients, employers and individuals who will be affected by these delays.”
While President Trump’s immigration crackdown and promise to “bring jobs back to America” slogan were regarded as the main reason for changes to the visa when announced in January, another immigration lawyer speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle said the recent suspension was apolitical and “has everything to do with an understaffed, overworked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.”
Others disputed that reading. Vivek Wadhwa, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University Engineering at Silicon Valley, said the suspension was a warning to tech companies and foreign workers that you “can’t buy your way into America.”
The worst-hit by the suspension could be India’s outsourcing firms. Some 69 percent of the H-1B visas go to Indians, around half of whom will be employed by a tech company in the U.S. “Tier-I Indian IT services firms largely use the premium processing category for H-1B visa for their employees, since they can easily afford the additional $1,225 fee,” said Pareekh Jain, senior vice-president at research firm HfS Research. “But there will be uncertainty, as they will have to wait even for ongoing projects.”