Indians aspiring to obtain an H-1B visa will have to wait longer. The processing time has increased by 169% over the past four years, according to a research report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
Processing time for workvisas, work permits (such as those required by eligible spouses of H-1B workers) and other immigration related benefits are now taking so long that they have reached crisis levels, AILA said in its report that was released on January 30.
In terms of months, the average wait time increased from 2.9 months in fiscal 2014 to 7.8 months as of September 30, 2018. The increased delays have undermined the ability of US companies to hire and retain essential workers and fill in critical workforce gaps (see table).
Indians are one of the main constitutes of the H-1B visas that are approved for ‘initial employment’. For instance, for the year ended September 30, 2017, Indians obtained 63% of the total 1.08 lakh visas that were issued.
USCIS in March 2018, just prior to the filing season for H-1B applications (that commences in the first week of April) had suspended premium processing for H-1B visa applications. This option enables companies sponsoring H-1B workers to pay an extra fee to guarantee that their application would be dealt with within 15 days. The suspension was expected to last until September 10. However, via another announcement this was continued and was expected to last until February 19. A few days ago, the suspension was lifted, but only for H-1B applications that were still pending from the April filing, where the employer continued to be the same.
“Sadly, the USCIS has failed to reinstate premium processing for H-1B cases in totality so far. Bits and pieces are being added a little too late to help many people,” points out Rajiv S Khanna, managing attorney at Immigration.com He explains that unprecedented delays in processing of non-immigrant visa petitions like H-1B and L1’s (visas granted to those on intra-company transfers) has created many practical difficulties for the immigrant workers and their families. “For instance, it is extremely difficult to get driver licences renewed while you are waiting for your visa status to be approved. Under the laws, some individuals — say those on H-1B, can continue working up to 240 days while the application is pending adjudication, but the state level agencies that issue drivers licenses do not know these federal level regulations, nor do they honour them,” states Khanna.
“Some of our clients, product manufacturing companies, have had to pause critical projects, because the expat professionals working on them are awaiting USCIS approvals of their timely filed applications,” adds Khanna.
Some of the delays are due to change in policies by the Trump administration, cites AILA’s report. For instance, eliminating deference to prior decisions in cases of extension application of work visas or requiring in person interviews for all immigrants who apply for employment-based green cards from within the US.
“The Trump administration’s desired goal is to restrict immigration, even legal immigration. It wants to only allow a narrow few, with high skills to enter the country. The administration, however, is unable to change the immigration law in a divided Congress to achieve its objective. One way to restrict immigration is to slow it down to a halt,” states Cyrus D Mehta, New York based immigration attorney. “Routine family based green card applications filed by spouses of US citizens are languishing and applications have not received interview notices for more than a year,” adds Mehta.
AILA’s research shows that the overall the average case processing time for surged by 46% over the past two fiscal years and by 91% since fiscal 2014. USCIS processed 94% of the various forms –ranging from green cards for family members to petitions for immigration workers — more slowly in fiscal 2018 than in fiscal 2014.