The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the increase in visa filing fees for various types of immigrant and non-immigrant visas. The rule includes an increase in the filing fee for an I-129H by 21% and I-129L by 75%. These I-129s are the petitions used to file for H-1Bs and L-1 visas. It extends the premium processing timeframe from 15 calendar days to 15 business days and increases the fee for naturalization petitions by more than 80% from $640 to $1,160.
However the most punitive move is, it also extends applicability of the additional visa fees paid by 50:50 companies to include H-1B and L-1 extension petitions. These fee increases will come into effect from 2nd October 2020.
Under the new rule, petitioners subject to the additional fees would need to pay for both initial petitions and extensions filed on or before September 30, 2027. This rescinds the agency’s longstanding legal opinion wherein this fee was collected on initial petitions only, given the combined “filing fee and fraud prevention and detection fee” was collected on initial petitions only and not on extensions. NASSCOM is strongly opposed to this as this will not be applicable to all companies but only to so called 50:50 companies, hence altering the level playing field for doing business. Also, importantly, the fees in question and the policy changes are not supported by legislative statute.
This is particularly coming at a time when all Indian and India based tech companies have significantly increased their U.S. localization efforts, and many of our large companies are no longer classified as 50:50 companies. That notwithstanding, there is a huge shortage of STEM skills in the U.S., the very gap that workers on short-term non-immigrant visas like H-1B and L-1 help bridge. The USCIS fee rule makes it costly and difficult for businesses to hire H-1B and L-1 workers, entailing higher talent gap on various high-tech skills. Unemployment rate for computer occupations (those most common amongst H-1B visa holders) declined from 3% in Jan-2020 to 2.5% in May-2020, while unemployment rate for all other occupations grew from 4.1% in Jan-2020 to 13.5% in May-2020. Further, in the 30-day period ending 13th May 2020, there were over 625,000 active job vacancy postings advertised online for jobs in common computer occupations, including those most common to H-1B visa holders.
Given this, U.S. enterprises would be forced to choose between shifting more tech work offshore where larger talent pools are available; or delaying innovation because of the lack of requisite tech talent in the U.S.
The Indian IT industry since 2015 onwards has seen more local hiring in the US and a reduction in numbers of H-1B visas. As the world opens up post the COVID-19 induced lockdowns, NASSCOM believes it is important for the U.S. to be able to access talent critical to the recovery phase. Measures that restrict access to talent will slow-down the recovery phase of U.S. economy, jobs, innovation and R&D.