As we are less then a week away from the H-1b cap filing period, many are speculating about the number of filings expected this year. Last year, there were almost 240,000 filings and the prior year had 233,000 however, many are predicting significantly fewer filings this year. Many of the largest users of H-1b visas see the current political climate and expect additional restrictions on the use of the H-1b visa as an opportunity to promote increased off-shoring of IT work thus reducing the number of H-1b visas needed. One such giant, Tata Consultancy Services has stated that they plan to file only 15% of the number filed last year. Other giant users including Infosys and Tech Mahindra have publicly stated that they have shifted strategies which are expected to result in fewer filings. Physical therapists are also expected to have fewer filing this year due to changes in Sec. 343 Healthcare Worker certification requirements forced on FCCPT by the USCIS. Others are simply tired of spending money and time on the preparation of petitions that have such little chance at ever being processed. On the other side of the equation are many US graduates eligible for STEM OPT extensions who are concerned that the Trump Administration may eliminate this work program and consequently, have sought H-1b lottery filings this year even though they may be entitled to two more years of employment as a student. Here in our office, we have attorneys giving a wide range of estimates with one predicting as many as 250,000. Personally, I am predicting about 160,000. We will report back as numbers are revealed and if you are in the lottery, we wish you the best.
In the face of recent attacks, which have portrayed the H-1b visa as a blight on the highly skilled but, unable to find employment U.S. worker; Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe Alliance pens a well thought out article which describes the need for access to talented workers, defends the proper use of the H-1b visa, and, implores those legitimate users of the H-1b visa to not let your voice go unheard. There is no question that there is some abuse of the H-1b visa program but, Congressional studies commissioned by none other than the H-1b hater in chief, Senator Grassley have proven that said abuse is negligible. The IT and engineering industry will be proponents of well thought out H-1b reforms that provide for protection for the US worker and wages, while at the same time providing timely access to talent that is consistent with the fast paced demands of U.S. employers competing in a global marketplace. For Congressional reforms to be meaningful, they will need to cut through the rhetoric of fear and hate and be led by those not so easily influenced by the 1 in 1000 but, by the 999.
The week started with a 60 minutes news segment and now a Bloomberg article. Many expect the increased and widespread negative publicity to accelerate the consideration of legislation to make sweeping changes to the H-1b visa. Senator Grassley wasted no time in jumping on the opportunity to push his proposed bill. However, as we have seen with healthcare, a campaign slogan does not always equate to legislation being passed.
The Department of State (DOS) has released the April Visa Bulletin. There were no changes to the dates of filing chart but, since there is no expectation that the USCIS will utilize this chart, it has effectively become moot. The final action date chart showed nice gains for All Other EB3, China EB3 and Philippines EB3 but, India EB2 and EB3 were virtually unmoved. Retrogression relief remains badly needed but, positive legislation seems but, a dream under this Administration.
On Monday, President Trump issued a new travel ban on persons from six (6) predominately Muslim countries. Absent from this new list was Iraq. The new EO makes clear that US citizens, LPR (green card) holders and those with existing visas are not subject to the ban. Most legal scholars believe this EO has a better chance of withstanding that pesky Constitution.
The USCIS has announced that effective April 3, 2017, that the Premium processing service will be suspended for an indefinite period of time, possibly up to 6 months. Previous suspensions of this service upgrade have impacted H-1b cap/lottery cases but, not all cases so this suspension has a broader effect. Current processing times on H-1b cases filed under the regular processing are between 9 and 12 months. This suspension will impact summer travel plans and may prevent H-1b workers from changing employers or returning to employment after extended leaves. The USCIS has stated that the purpose of the suspension is to allow them to move resources from the PP units to work on cases that have become severely backlogged.
The shootings of two H-1b engineers near Kansas this past week, resulting in the death of one of them has saddened and stirred fear among the Indian community. We offer our condolences to his family. Many are quick to link this shooting to the nationalistic and inflammatory rhetoric which has become commonplace since President Trump began his campaign and has continued since he took office. The White House was quick to deny any link. India’s Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar will be in the U.S. this coming week for an official visit and has pledged to discuss this incident.
During this season where it seems like bad news is the order of the day, the Department of State (DOS) released the March Visa Bulletin and also made some very positive predictions for movement in the coming months. For example, the DOS predicted that we could see a movement of 1 month per month for the India EB2 category, up to the 3 months for the all other EB3 category, and up to 6 months each month for the EB3 Philippines category. They also indicated that EB2 would remain current for all other countries.