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H1B, H4 delays spike as premium processing deadline looms

A rash of memos by the US State Department to consular officials over the last couple of weeks soon after President Trump’s latest travel ban executive order coupled with last minute rush to file H1B ‘premium processing’ applications has sparked longer waits for H1B workers and their spouses (H4) who have applied for extensions, change of status or employment authorisations at the most popular service centres in America.

 H1B, H4 delays spike as premium processing deadline looms

The H1B backlash sits well with Trump's core voters / AP

Premium processing (quicker approvals for higher payment) for H1B petitions is being suspended temporarily effective April 3, 2017 and the Nebraska Service Centre has been swamped by applications seeking to beat the stiff deadline.

This affects not just H1B applicants but H4 applicants too.

Although the higher rate premium processing is not available for H-4 applicants hoping for employment authorisations, if the H1B and H4 petitions are submitted together, the USCIS usually picks up both in one go.

With workload piling up significantly, service centres have now decided to give priority to the H1B petitions and deal with the H4 a few weeks on - symptomatic of the nature of the H4 itself which trails behind the now embattled H1 visa.

Meanwhile, the memos sent by the State Department are reminding consular outposts “that all visa decisions are national security decisions.”

Consulates are now trimming the number of interviews per day - they have been instructed to schedule no more than 120 per day per officer even if backlogs spike as a result of the additional scrutiny.

Though some of the memos may fall between the cracks of Trump’s EO and the courts setting it on fire, there’s at least one memo that remains relevant after the EO and the court rulings which was issued March 17, 2017.

In less than one page, this memo makes it clear that stricter vetting will remain a reality in Trump’s first year no matter what the fate of his EO.

The 221g mentioned in the below extract from the most recent memo is the consular term for refusing or delaying visas which need additional documentation.

“The E.O. and Presidential Memorandum highlight the critical importance of maintaining extra vigilance in the conduct of our work and continuing to increase scrutiny of visa applicants for potential security and non-security related ineligibilities. Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns under 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in order to explore all available local leads and pending the outcome of an SAO as appropriate, or issue any other refusals or take other precautionary actions pursuant to any applicable ground of inadmissibility under the INA. All officers should remember that all visa decisions are national security decisions. A consular officer should refuse under 214(b) of the INA any nonimmigrant visa applicant whom the consular officer believes may fail to abide by the requirements of the visa category in question.””

The H1B visa has never been in sharper focus before in America. Barely a week ago, it headlined the iconic CBS Show 60 Minutes with ‘victims’ of the H1B visa slamming the loopholes which stack odds against locals.

The man who helped write the Immigration Act of 1990, which created the H-1B program said on the show that he’s “outraged at how the H-1B has been hijacked as the main highway to bring people from abroad and displace Americans.”

H1B baiters believe the trouble begins from a 1998 amendment to the law which allows companies that reply on H1B workers to ignore the primacy of protecting American jobs as long as they pay the foreign workers at least $60,000 a year - a pittance in the tech industry which find few takers locally.

As things stand, significant shifts on the H1B program would likely need a complex rulemaking process and big changes will end up in court. Yet, the shoe is already biting. The fire breathing immigration messaging from Trump has found a ready ally in the border control department and the USICS which have tightened screws at consulates around the world.

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Updated Date: Mar 28, 2017 07:03:13 IST