Amid tough scrutiny, H-1B visa process begins today

H1B Visa Process

WASHINGTON: US companies will start filing applications on Monday under the H-1B visa programme, used in large numbers by highly skilled Indians, amid fears of unprecedented scrutiny in line with Trump administration’s resolve to prevent displacement of American workers.

H-1B is a gateway for Indian professionals in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths) to work in the US. They are either hired by American companies or US subsidiaries of Indian IT giants such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS. Indians accounted for 70% of H-1B visa holders in 2016.

In the past, the filing process lasted not more than a few days, as companies raced to file their applications before the US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), which runs the programme, reach the cap. Out of 65,000 H-1B visas granted annually under the regular route (another 20,000 are set aside for foreign students in US colleges), the USCIS has tended to receive several times more applications that it sorts using a computer generated lottery, which it will continue despite plans to end it.

A USCIS spokesperson said the lottery system will be used to process applications for 2019 as well. “The lottery will be conducted as in past years…no changes.” USCIS has also said that there will be strict enforcing of rules about third-party placements – outsourcing – to ensure the beneficiary “will be employed in a specialty occupation” and that the employer will retain employer-employee relationship with the beneficiary.

There will also be increased emphasis on fraud detection in petitions, and in the implementation of the programme overall. There was a massive drop in applications in 2017 (for the 2018 cycle) last April, just four months into the new administration. It was attributed largely to harsh measures President Donald Trump had threatened.

The USCIS had received 199,000 applications in 2017, which was 37,000 less than 236,000 in 2016, ending a steady rise. It received 233,000 petitions in 2015 and 172,500 in 2014.