Last week, the US government announced the suspension of the H-1B expedited program, which normally allows employers to request premium processing of certain foreign workers by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS). Effective April 3rd, employers will no longer have access to this service, and must wait the standard time for approval.
Prior to this ruling, employers could pay a fee to guarantee a 15-day decision period for foreign workers, which helped with recruitment and workforce planning. This practice has been criticized because it’s considered unfair to organizations that cannot afford the expedited processing fee, and it has caused a backlog of cases – especially H-1B visa extensions nearing expiration.
How could this potentially impact the recruitment of foreign workers in 2017 and beyond?
Some critics of this move to suspend the premium processing program (albeit temporarily) are worried that this could have negative effects on recruitment of foreign workers, causing U.S. employers to shy away from hiring individuals who require H-1B visas. Of particular concern are employers in the STEM markets, which rely heavily on skilled talent from other countries.
According to the Silicon Valley Institute of Regional Studies, “more than one out of every three individuals in Silicon Valley is foreign born." They also point out that more than half of the U.S. startups worth more than $1 billion were started by immigrants who came here on visas.
ERE Media reports that even though tech firms represent the majority of foreign worker hires, due to rampant skills shortages, health care centers in rural areas are dependent on foreign professionals. CNN Money also reported that nearly 15,000 trained doctors from foreign countries have staffed underserved hospitals and clinics in the last 10 years.
The delays in processing H-1B Visas could impact companies in the following ways:
- Some foreign workers may receive 60-days or less notice that they must renew their H-1B status, or face deportation from the US.
- Employers will not be able to request faster processing of H-1B visa approvals for new foreign workers, which could create additional pressure on recruitment teams.
- Because of the added delays in getting H-1B workers approved, companies could opt not to extend offers of employment or employment renewals to foreign workers.
Why is the UCIS suspending the program?
Managing attorney Julie Pearl, CEO of the Pearl Law Group that’s representing UCIS, explained to SHRM that this decision came as a result of the, “high volume of filed petitions and the increasing number of premium processing requests in recent years." The goal is to reduce the time it takes to process all requests, especially those cases where the H-1B extensions are close to the 240-day mark, jeopardizing the continued employment of a foreign worker.
Another potential problem with the H-1B visa program is the flooding of the market with outsourced candidates from foreign companies where wages are much lower than US employees earn. For example, a US-native software developer may be offered as much as $100K annually in salary and benefits, while an H-1B Visa holder may be offered $40K annually.
How can recruiters offset the new ruling?
Recruiters can take three possible roads. One is to focus on moving candidates through the talent pipeline quickly, and getting H-1B paperwork taken care of early in the process. The second option is to hire only candidates who have already been approved for H-1B entry into the US, to ensure no setbacks. Lastly, recruiters may instead need to consider hiring domestic independent contractors to make up for full-time losses that may occur due to the suspension.
It will be interesting to see what may happen in the next 12-months, while this new ruling takes place. While this move is temporary, it could have an impact on businesses that rely heavily on H-1B workers.