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US suspends premium H-1B visas

US suspends premium H-1B visas
Highlights

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that to clear a backlog of regular H-1B visa applications, it is suspending for six...

New York: The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that to clear a backlog of regular H-1B visa applications, it is suspending for six months a programme that allowed some companies to jump to the head of the queue for quicker processing of H-1B visas by paying a special fee.

The move is likely to impact the Indian information technology services professionals, who travel to the US for work on non-immigrant work visas, most of which are H-1Bs.

As long as H-1B premium (or fast) processing is suspended, USCIS has said people will also not be able to file, among other things, petitions for a non-immigrant worker, the classification under which Indian IT companies send their employees to work in the US.

This is not a suspension of the H-1B visas, but only of the "premium processing", which allows companies to pay $1,125 to go to the top of the line ahead of those waiting for applications to be processed, the USCIS said. "This temporary suspension that comes into effect from April 3 will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times", it added.

Under "premium processing", a decision is made on H-1B application within 15 days, while the regular applications take more than three months - period that has lengthened because of the surge in "premium processing" applications.

While no new law or executive order has been passed yet, experts almost unanimously agree that the H-1B visa programme will most certainly undergo a change, impacting Indian IT companies. At present, the US has a cap of 65,000 visas for the general category under H-1B visas and allows a further 20,000 people who have a US master's degree from an accredited institution to also apply. In a year, nearly 200,000 H-1B visa applications are approved, including visa renewals, extensions and other exempt categories, according to industry estimates.

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