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H1B workers, H4 visa, Green Card backlogs: USCIS responds to Firstpost queries

It's been a remarkably tough year for the image of the H1B visa worker in Trump's America. We say "image" because much of the headline grabbing news has been mainly to do with dialing back the H1B to a simpler time when the employer-employee relationship stayed simple and ended with a whimper when it did. But over the last three decades, the complexities in this most highly regulated work visa in the US have ballooned and the Obama era coincided with economic anxiety where white Americans searched for scapegoats and often found them in their brown neighbors next door, maybe from Asia or someplace on the other side of the Atlantic, driving better cars and buying houses and striking deeper roots. This is merely a simplistic portrayal of a deep divide in America that still rages and in the process, the H1B visa came to represent the stealing of American jobs. The H1B made it to America's most iconic weekend show CBS 60 minutes, Trump's White House held a whopper of a background briefing on the many ills of the H1B lottery and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services launched an all out screw tightening at a scale never seen before. We asked the USCIS some questions on the state of play of the H1B visa and the answers have just come in after a few weeks. On the most crucial questions, we did not make much headway and have to reach out to other government agencies which we have done. The Firstpost Q and A with Joanne F Talbot of the USCIS is below. One sentence in the interview stands out for the signals it sends out to the H4 community worried whether their employment authorisation may be killed off  - "USCIS is working on a combination of rulemaking, policy memoranda, and operational changes to implement the Buy American, Hire American Executive Order."

 H1B workers, H4 visa, Green Card backlogs: USCIS responds to Firstpost queries

Quote the EO, wield a big stick. Trump's 'Buy American Hire American' is the default anthem for rule making in the DHS now / REUTERS

Firstpost: Early in 2017, you introduced the email ID to report H1B fraud. Earlier it was a very complex bunch of forms to be filled out. Also, in parallel, we see that your social handles are pushing the email ID to report abuse in a very disciplined and consistent manner. What are your learnings after you made it easier to report abuse?
Joanne Talbot: The dedicated email inbox makes it easier for the public to report H-1B fraud or abuse to USCIS and advances our efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute fraud or misuse in the H-1B program. When appropriate, the information we receive through the dedicated tipline will also allow it to be shared with federal agencies, such as the Department of State, Department of Labor, and Department of Justice, who are also involved in investigating and prosecuting fraud and misuse in the H-1B program.

Firstpost: What is the agency's view on clearing the backlog in employment based Green Cards?

Talbot: USCIS’ goal is to process all applications and petitions in a timely manner for its applicants.

USCIS is continuing to review capacity at each service center, and, based on our analysis, redistributing the workload among the service centers.

Capacity planning is a priority for USCIS in order to maximize our resources. To provide full visibility and transparency to stakeholders, all applicants whose applications and petitions are transferred will receive a notice explaining where their application/petition has moved.

In addition, USCIS posted web alerts and sent a stakeholder message to ensure stakeholders and applicants had the necessary information regarding case transfers.

These transfers will assist with backlog reduction, ensure processing times are consistent across service centers, and provide individual stakeholders with faster adjudication responses.

New workload transfer updates can be found here.

Applicants can access current processing times on the USCIS website at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplayInit.do.

USCIS encourages applicants to sign up for an account with Case Status Online to receive case status updates including when the Green Card is mailed.

USCIS also encourages customers to keep their address up to date to ensure their card is delivered to the proper address. Customers can update their mailing address online.

Firstpost: Can you tell us how many H1B renewals (alone) have happened in any particular year. For instance, say calendar year 2017. Ideally, we would like to have a grasp of H1B renewals that have happened at the 3 year mark and then the 6 year mark?
Talbot: We do not have this data readily available.

Firstpost: From your H4 numbers published, we get the totals but not the distinction between new applications and renewals.
Talbot: We do not have this data readily available.

Firstpost: Last year, the White House held a background briefing ahead of the Buy American, Hire American EO which spoke in great detail on the H1B lottery. Clearly a lot of tightening is on. What are the areas of your greatest concern as far as the skilled worker H1B visa is concerned?

Talbot: The Buy American and Hire American Executive Order seeks to create higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers and to protect their economic interests by rigorously enforcing and administering our immigration laws. It also directs DHS, in coordination with other agencies, to advance policies to help ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid beneficiaries. USCIS is working on a combination of rulemaking, policy memoranda, and operational changes to implement the EO. We are creating and carrying out these initiatives to protect the economic interests of U.S. workers and prevent fraud and abuse within the immigration system. Please note that USCIS is committed to carrying out the EO in a transparent manner for the American people. Please check our EO webpage for updates regarding operational and policy changes related to this EO, as well as data sets on petitioners and beneficiaries using our employment-based immigration programs. In addition, the website provides information on reporting abuse in our nonimmigrant programs.

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2018 22:45:50 IST

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