COVID-19 shutdowns have complicated the H-1B process this season, but that’s not the only issue getting in the way. Temporary suspensions coupled with glitches in the new electronic registration system have made securing H-1B visas for FY2021 more difficult than usual.
COVID-19 Related Changes
Until further notice, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has temporarily suspended new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions, including H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2021, petitions from previous fiscal years, and all H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap.
Field offices are closed to non-emergency face-to-face visits as well. To get around this, USCIS is temporarily changing requirements for “wet” signatures (allowing electronically reproduced original signatures) and is reusing previously submitted biometrics when they’re required.
As far as extended deadlines go, USCIS has extended flexibility to respond to certain Requests for Evidence (RFE), Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID), Notices of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) and Notices of Intent to Terminate (NOIT), as well as certain filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.
Electronic Registration Issues
USCIS announced that the H-1B cap initial electronic registration process for 2021 was completed on time and petitioners whose registrations were selected have been notified as of March 31, 2020. But many employers complain that the process hasn’t been as easy as the USCIS makes it sound—and it might even have been erroneously unfair.
A new electronic registration system has caused headaches for those applying for H-1B cap-subject visas. A number of technical glitches have been reported. One, for example, caused registrations to be incorrectly denied for being duplicate registrations. Forbes reports that at least 100 registrants—and possibly hundreds more—were denied due to this error.
“In a cruel twist, it appears many foreign-born professionals were denied a chance at one of the 85,000 H-1B petitions available for new H-1B visa holders through no fault of their own,” Forbes Senior Contributor Stuart Anderson writes. “On average, for every 100 registrations, USCIS mistakenly denied as a duplicate, the lives of 31 people who hoped to make their careers in America may have changed forever. The number is likely much higher than 31.”
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has been investigating the issue.
Uncertainty in Uncertain Times
You may have other questions about hiring and retaining foreign nationals right now. Can they be furloughed? Can their employment status be changed from full-time to part-time? What will happen if their job needs to be terminated due to COVID-19-related circumstances? Do any additional regulations apply when requiring them to work from home?
This National Law Review article offers tips addressing these and other questions, but don’t stop there. Work with your employment or immigration attorney to develop a plan. The HT Group is also here to help and can offer outside-the-box solutions for employing tech workers and maintaining business continuity.
“You’re likely facing dozens of employment challenges right now that you—and, quite frankly, most employers—have never faced before,” says The HT Group Professional Services Sales Director Craig Patterson. “Now is not the time to navigate alone. Gaining outside perspectives and asking for help will be your best path forward.”