DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice but information that we understand to be the case regarding H-1B visas and the 6-month suspension of premium processing beginning April 3. Anyone possibly affected by this should contact their institution for legal advice. We will update this as necessary as more information comes in, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have insights or information.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have issued a suspension of premium processing for H-1B visas for 6 months, beginning April 3.
The H-1B is a temporary visa to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations. There are certain conditions on the number of visas and salary requirements for for-profit employers, but academia and non-profit organizations enjoy more relaxed rules, including exemption from a cap on numbers and lower salary requirements, under the “American Competitiveness in the 21st Century” Act. Postdocs and staff scientists are often hired on H-1B visas, in many cases exhausting the option of the J-1 temporary visitor visa.
The statement issued by USCIS states explicitly that “The suspension also applies to petitions that may be cap-exempt” and so it appears that with premium processing no longer an option, H-1B visas in academia could take 6-9 months to be issued from point of application. It is not possible to work before the visa is issued and so this could delay the transition of foreign grad students on J or F or other temporary visas to H-1B visas if they are starting a postdoc; it could also delay the hiring of postdocs currently abroad looking to start a postdoc position in the U.S.; and it could also delay the applications of current postdocs looking to transfer from J visas to H-1Bs. This could result in individuals currently living in the U.S. needing to leave. Anyone in this position, either as a potential applicant or a PI hiring/administering their postdocs, within the next year should contact their institution for more information. The greatest issue is timing. Many institutions rely on the premium processing to give a more rapid turnaround time. Therefore this suspension has the potential to delay hiring of new postdocs, or prohibit the continued hire of postdocs currently on J or F visas.
More than half of the biomedical workforce in the U.S. is made up of international researchers. As described in Beryl Lieff Benderley’s article in Science Careers, “Academic H-1Bs by the numbers,” there are around 20,000 new H-1B visas added in academic roles each year. While there appear to have been a number of suspensions in the past, some of which have also included cap-exempt H-1Bs and various categories of the visa, this appears to be the longest and most far-reaching suspension yet (we are however still looking into this).