U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has resumed premium processing for all fiscal year 2019 (FY2019) H-1B cap petitions, “including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption (the ‘master’s cap’),” according to the agency.
There are some restrictions, however. “The previously announced temporary suspension of premium processing remains in effect for all other categories of H-1B petitions to which it applied,” the agency added. “We plan to resume premium processing for the remaining categories of H-1B petitions as agency workloads permit.”
This “premium processing” allows people (often companies acting on behalf of an applicant) to speed up the review of a petition. A general suspension makes it difficult for people to not only obtain H-1B visas, but also for H-1B holders to jump between jobs or even move to a new company office.
The big question now is whether the Trump administration will actually confirm (and formally announce) its plans to retool the H-1B lottery system. Under the revamped system, H-1B applicant pools will have all applicants (including those with advanced degrees) enter the annual “general pool” of 65,000 visas. After that, remaining applicants with advanced degrees will enter a 20,000-visa “master’s cap” pool.
In the current system, applicants with advanced degrees first enter that “master’s cap” pool; if they’re denied, they subsequently enter the “general pool.” The new system will give them two good shots at actually landing a visa.
Those aren’t the only changes proposed by the Trump administration over the past two years. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor also wants employers to fill out paperwork identifying which visa candidates will end up sent to subcontractors (i.e. “secondary entities”). If that information is made public, it could create a public-relations nightmare for staffing agencies that depend heavily on sending H-1B visa holders to client firms, as they might face questions over why they didn’t hire U.S. citizens.
What does this mean for 2019? Whether or not there’s another government shutdown (which may have an impact on the people who administer the various visa programs), these policy shifts and tweaks may slow the pace of the H-1B program, impacting the businesses that depend on the visa. For critics of the program, however, any slowdown is a good slowdown.