Want to apply for H-1B visa to US? Window opening soon: Top 10 developments

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced petitions for H1-B visas for fiscal year 2019 will be accepted from April 2
Wish to live the American dream, especially as an information technology (IT) professional looking to work in the land of promise? Take note: Petitions for H1-B visas for financial year 2019 will be accepted from April 2, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Wednesday. Further, the USCIS announced that premium processing for all H-1B petitions, subject to annual caps, stands suspended.

The USCIS has said that the temporary suspension of H-1B premium processing would help reduce the overall H-1B visa processing time. The H-1B petition filing is for fiscal 2019, which begins from October 1, 2018.

The H-1B filing season comes after the Donald Trump administration earlier this months delayed its decision on terminating work authorisation for the spouses of H-1B visa holders until June. The move came as a big relief to a significantly large number of Indian workers and their families. American lawmakers have urged the Trump administration to not repeal work permits for the spouses H-1B visa holders.

The announcement also comes amid the heated and ongoing political debate in the US over immigration policy and reforms, with the Trump administration looking to ensure that the H-1B visa programme is not 'abused'. Ahead of the filing season for work visa, popular among Indian IT professionals, beginning in April, anti-H1B posters have come up at local metro stations and commuter trains in San Francisco and California.

The H1B visa, a non-immigrant visa, allows American companies to employ foreign workers for specialty occupations requiring technical or theoretical expertise. Technology companies, especially IT firms, depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year, particularly from countries like India. 

As an H-1B non-immigrant, an applicant might be admitted for a period of up to three years. The time period might be extended, but generally it cannot go beyond a total of six years. However, there are some exceptions. According to the USCIS, between 2007 and 2017, the highest number of H-1B petitions it received was 2.2 million, from high-skilled Indians. India was followed by China with 301,000 H-1B petitions during the same period.

Here are the top 10 developments around H-1B visa applications:

1) H-1B visa application to begin from April 2: Petitions for H1-B visas for the fiscal year 2019 beginning October 1, 2018, will be accepted from April 2, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today. "We will begin accepting H-1B petitions, subject to the FY 2019 cap, on April 2, 2018. You may file an H-1B petition no more than six months before the employment start date requested for the beneficiary," the uscis.gov site said.

2) H-1B cap petition premium processing suspended until September: The USCIS further announced suspension of premium processing for all H-1B petitions, which are subject to the annual caps. According to the federal agency, the suspension of premium processing for all H-1B visa petitions that are subject to annual caps is expected to last until September 10, 2018.

"We will notify the public before resuming premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions or making any other premium processing updates," it said.

"We will temporarily suspend premium processing for all FY 2019 cap-subject petitions, including petitions seeking an exemption for individuals with a US master's degree or higher. This suspension is expected to last until September 10, 2018," said the uscis.gov site, adding, "During this temporary suspension, we will reject any Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, filed with an FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petition. If a petitioner submits one combined check for the fees for Form I-907 and Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, we will reject both forms. When we resume premium processing, petitioners may file a Form I-907 for FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions that remain pending." 

3) Premium processing continues for H-1B petitions not subject to cap: During this time, however, premium processing requests for H-1B petitions that are not subject to the fiscal 2019 cap would continue to be accepted, the USCIS said.

4) Request to expedite H-1B petitions subject to cap allowed: The USCIS said that while premium processing was suspended, a petitioner could submit a request to expedite an FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petition if it met the expedited criteria.

It is the petitioner's responsibility to demonstrate that they meet at least one of the expedite criteria, and we encourage petitioners to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite request," the federal agency's official site said, adding, "We review all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and will grant requests at the discretion of USCIS office leadership."

5) Here are the criteria for expediting H-1B petition: According to the USCIS' official site, the agency might expedite a petition or application if it meets one or more of the following criteria: 

A) Severe financial loss to company or person
B) Emergency situation
C) Humanitarian reasons
D) Nonprofit organisation whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States
E) Department of Defense or national interest situation (These particular expedite requests must come from an official US government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the government.)
F) USCIS error
G) Compelling interest of USCIS

6) Reason behind suspension of premium processing explained: The USCIS has said that the temporary suspension of premium processing would help it reduce the overall H-1B processing time.

The agency's official site said that by temporarily suspending premium processing, it would be able to:

A) Process long-pending petitions, which we have currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years

B) Prioritise adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark 

7) H-1B visa annual caps explained: The H1-B visa has an annual numerical limit cap of 65,000 visas each fiscal year as mandated by the Congress. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a US master's degree or higher are exempt from the cap.

Additionally, H1-B workers who are petitioned for or employed at an institution of higher education or its affiliated or related nonprofit entities or a nonprofit research organisation or a government research organisation are not subject to this numerical cap.

How the USCIS determine if an H-1B petition is subject to the FY 2019 cap? The official site says: "We use the information provided in Sections 2 and 3 (or Part C) of the H-1B Data Collection and Filing Fee Exemption Supplement to help us determine if a petition is subject to the congressionally mandated cap of 65,000 H-1B visas (commonly known as the "regular cap"). An exemption from the H-1B cap for beneficiaries who have earned a US master's degree or higher (commonly known as the "advanced degree exemption") is available until the number of beneficiaries who are exempt on this basis exceeds 20,000. Sections 2 and 3 can be found on pages 19-21 of Form I-129." 

The H-1B "regular cap" for FY19 is 65,000. The H-1B "master's exemption" for FY19 is 20,000.

8) Anti H-1B posters come up in US: Ahead of the work visa filing season beginning in April, anti-H1B posters have come up in San Francisco and California's local metro stations and commuter trains. The Progressives for Immigration Reform, which has bought advertisements worth $80,000 for the San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit stations and trains, argues that their purpose is to create awareness about the misuse and abuse of H-1B visas.

"This is to get exposure to the H-1B programme. And with that attention, with that visibility, begin conversations on the abuses of the programmes what it was intended to be and what it has become," Kevin Lynn, director of the Washington DC-based Progressive for Information Reform told Indian news agencies.

9) US delays its proposal to end H-1B spouses' work authorisation: In a big relief to a significantly large number of Indian workers and their families, the Trump administration earlier this month delayed its decision on the termination of work authorisation for spouses of H-1B visa holders

In a court submission, the Department of Homeland Security said that it would not take a decision on terminating the work authorisation of H4 visa users, spouses of H-1B visa holders, till June as it needs time to review the economic impact of such a decision. 

10) Trump urged to retain work permits for H-1B spouses: US lawmakers from the Silicon Valley have urged the Trump administration to retain the Obama-era rule allowing H-1B visa holders' spouses to work legally in the US. A 2015 rule issued by the Obama administration allows work permits for spouses who otherwise could not be employed while H-1B visa holders seek permanent resident status -- a process that can take a decade or longer.

Indian-Americans were a major beneficiary of this provision. More than 100,000 H-4 visa holders have been beneficiary of this rule. 

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