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U.S. will lose millions because it can't process visas fast enough

Staff Writer | April 7, 2017
Lost amid the uproar over the Trump administration's crackdown on undocumented immigrants is a change coming to the legal immigration system that's expected to be costly for both U.S. companies and the government itself.
Visa
Immigrants   U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Each year at about this time, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services receives a tidal wave of applications for H-1B visas, the ones for college-educated workers.

For-profit companies usually have a five-day window in April to send in applications for new visas just as existing visa holders begin renewing theirs.

The new wrinkle is that earlier this week USCIS suspended so-called "premium processing," a program that allowed employers to pay extra to reduce visa wait times from as long as eight months to just two weeks.

Officials have depicted the temporary stoppage as the upshot of a "significant surge" in demand for expedited service, but, in reality, it appears to reflect the agency's own mismanagement and waste.

According to USCIS records, congressional testimony and interviews with former agency officials, USCIS has plunged most of the expedited program's revenues from the last eight years — some $2.3 billion — into a failed effort to digitize the larger immigration system, leaving inadequate resources to staff the H-1B portion that was its cash cow.

USCIS has occasionally suspended premium processing before, but the timing of this suspension, which is expected to last up to six months, is especially damaging. Some 236,000 H-1B applications poured in in April 2016.

Pausing expedited service is likely to cause delays for tens of thousands of applicants for new visas, mainly workers at universities or research organizations, as well as foreign doctors who receive H-1Bs in exchange for working in areas that are medically underserved, according to USCIS data.

It'll also cost USCIS up to $100 million in lost fees, agency spokeswoman Carolyn Gwathmey acknowledged.

Gwathmey said the loss would be cushioned by a $700 million reserve fund created by a surplus of premium processing fees and "would not negatively impact" the agency's ability to keep paying for the digitization initiative, which is $1 billion over budget and five years behind schedule.


 

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