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Still not all water under the bridge.
Image: Reuters/Randall Hill

There is finally some respite for H-1B seekers.

Last week, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said it will resume premium processing  for H-1B petitions today (Jan. 28). “Petitioners who have received requests for evidence (RFEs) for pending FY 2019 cap petitions should include their RFE response with any request for premium processing they may submit,” the immigration agency said.

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The H-1B, which allows a skilled foreign worker to get employment in the US for up to six years, is one of the most sought-after US visa categories. The applicants for the visa are first shortlisted by a lottery and the selected ones can then pay a fee of $1,410 (Rs87,150) to expedite the process under the premium processing route and get a verdict on their visa status within 15 days.

However, in March, the Donald Trump administration stopped the expedited service until September owing to massive backlogs in its offices. The suspension was then extended again.

In the absence of premium processing, it typically takes between two and six months for an H-1B visa to be granted, sometimes longer.

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“Cases filed in April that have been stuck for almost 10 months can be quickly adjudicated now, within two weeks. It’ll help unlodge stuck cases,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner at immigration law firm LawQuest. “It will give employers closure—a final decision on whether employees can be onboarded or not—and it will give employees an ability to plan for the future.”

One particular set of H-1B aspirants will benefit far more than others. “The biggest impact will be for recent graduates on OPT (optional practical training),” said Chothani. “They had to stop working on Oct. 01 because they were in the cap-gap due to the recent USCIS memo. Once their H-1Bs are adjudicated and they are approved they can apply for adjustment of status.”

However, it’s certainly not all rosy for foreign talent in the US just yet.

A shaky fix

Just allowing premium processing won’t necessarily make it easier to secure an H-1B, said Vivek Tandon, founder and CEO of immigration firm EB5 BRICS. “Applications will still be adjudicated on their merits and will have to meet stringent H-1B visa requirements,” Tandon said.

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Considering H-1B denials and RFEs are on the riseespecially among Indians, the largest recipient group for the H-1B—”employers should make every effort to thoroughly and properly present their applications,” he added.

And not everyone will be rushing to the USCIS with cheques in hand. “Ten months down the road, firms may have made alternative arrangements already,” Chothani said. Firms may have already let go of foreign talent stuck in a limbo and hired others who have an easier route to live and work in the US.

Also, lifting the suspension could just be a momentary relief. If there is a deluge of H-1Bs that flood the system in April, the administration could halt premium processing again unless they can come up with another, more streamlined process to handle the onslaught of applications, experts say.