Glimmer of hope for Indian IT: H-1B premium processing may start again

Indian information technology (IT) firms and techies may find some relief as the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) last week said that premium processing of H-1B visa petitions could come back as and when the agency’s workload permits.

While reinstating premium processing for one particular category of applicants only, the agency said in its statement: “USCIS plans to resume premium processing of other H-1B petitions as workloads permit. We will make additional announcements with specific details related to when we will begin accepting premium processing for those petitions.”

In March this year, the US suspended the processing of premium H-1B visas starting from April 3 citing a backlog of applications.

The Trump administration’s stance on H-1B visas has been a thorny issue for the Indian government. However, during the recent visit to the US by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the contentious issue reportedly did not come up for discussion.

In a statement issued on June 23, the USCIS announced that starting June 26, it would resume “premium processing for all H-1B petitions filed for medical doctors under the Conrad 30 Waiver program, as well as interested government agency waivers”. Till now, only doctors who meet the requirement mentioned in the statement can avail of premium processing for their H-1B petitions.

The Conrad 30 program mentioned in the release allows certain medical doctors to stay in the United States on a temporary visa after completing their medical training “to work in rural and urban areas that have shortage of physicians”.

Glimmer of hope for Indian IT?

As reported earlier, the suspension of premium processing is likely to adversely impact domestic software exporters such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Infosys, as well as multinational firms such as IBM and Google, who send engineers to work on projects in the US.

Before the suspension, a company sponsoring a potential employee or current employee’s H-1B petition could fill out a form to expedite the processing of that petition. After paying an additional $1,225 fee for this service, the USCIS would typically respond in 15 calendar days, whereas standard H-1B petitions usually take anywhere between three to six months to receive a judgement.

“Tier-I Indian IT services firms largely use the premium processing category for H-1B visa for their employees, since they can easily afford the additional $1,225 fee. But, there will be uncertainty, as they will have to wait even for ongoing projects,” Pareekh Jain of HfS Research India had told Business Standard back in March.

IT Industry body Nasscom, however, had sounded a more optimistic note in March. As reported earlier, Nasscom had said that the suspension of visa processing would cause some temporary impediment but was unlikely to be a major issue.

Local hiring jumps

Indian IT majors TCS, Wipro, and Infosys have already seen the number of their H-1B applications drop even as they ramp up local hiring in the US.

As reported earlier, Wipro Ltd, the country’s third-largest software services exporter, said on Wednesday that more than half its workforce in the United States consists of locals after it hired more than 1,600 people in the last six months.

Wipro rival Infosys Ltd last month said it planned to hire 10,000 US workers in the next two years and open four technology centres in the United States.

A report from earlier this month revealed that TCS applied for only a third of the H-1B work visas this year compared to 2015, helped by increased hiring from engineering campuses and business schools in the US.

The jump in local hiring in the US comes even as Indian techies have been battered by a spate of layoffs.