The process of filing petitions for H-1B, considered the most sought-after work visa among highly skilled Indian professionals, has begun amidst unprecedented scrutiny by the Trump Administration.
A strong indication has come from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS, the federal agency which is responsible to process all H-1B visas, that there will be zero tolerance by it for even the minutest of errors.
Reports suggest that immigration attorneys this time expect a much high rate of rejection.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India.
The H-1B visa has an annual numerical limit cap of 65,000 visas each fiscal year as mandated by the Congress. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a US master's degree or higher are exempt from the cap.
Days ahead of the start of the H-1B visa application process for the fiscal year 2019, beginning October 1 this year; USCIS warned that all duplicate applications would be subject to rejection. In previous years filing of duplicate petitions, by companies, so that applicants could have greater chance in getting through the lottery had become a normal practice.
USCIS has also said that it will reject H-1B petitions requesting an earlier employment start date or a start date of "As Soon As Possible" or "ASAP."
Expecting a huge rush of application beginning today and greater scrutiny of all petitions, which would require much more man hours, USCIS has also temporarily suspended premium processing.
"We will announce the start date for premium processing in the near future," USCIS said.
As of now, USCIS has not indicated if it plans to go for a computerised draw of lots as has been the case in previous years after receiving several times more than the Congressional mandated cap of H-1B visas.
"Complete all sections of the form accurately The petitioner should include a copy of the beneficiary's valid passport," USCIS said.
If the applicant is seeking an extension of stay or change of status, he/she should include evidence to establish that the beneficiary will maintain a valid nonimmigrant status through the employment start date being requested, USCIS said in its filing tips.
Given the general campaign against highly skilled Indian professionals, the applications by Indian companies are likely to face a greater scrutiny of all these petitions. As in the previous years, Indian companies would have to pay much more fee per application than those from other countries. On an average they are required to pay USD 6,000 to the federal government per H-1B application.
And by then time the successful applicant appear before the American diplomatic missions -- embassies and consulates for a formal visa interview and stamping on their passport, they would have to be ready with details of the social media profile, emails and phone numbers in the last five years.
On Friday, the State Department issued a formal notification in this regard which would come into force after 90 days.
Ahead of the H-1B visa filing process, USCIS said this work visa should help US companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country.
"Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged. Employers who abuse the H-1B visa program may negatively affect US workers, decreasing wages and opportunities as they import more foreign workers," it said.
Protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority for USCIS, it said, adding that it is furthering its efforts by enhancing and increasing site visits, interviews, and investigations of petitioners who use the H-1B visa programme.
"These efforts will help assist in the prosecution of program violators and ensure that American workers are not overlooked or replaced in the process," USCIS said.