The US has increased the “premium processing” fee for non-immigrant visa applicants, marking another attempt by the Trump administration to make companies hire locally.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) has increased filing fee for “premium processing” by almost 75 per cent—from $1,440 to $2,500—for all filings except H2B and R1 applicants. The fee for H2B and R1 petitions is now $1,500 after a hike.
Premium is a fee foreign employers pay to speed up decisions on their visa petitions which could otherwise take months to be processed. It is similar to the Indian Railways tatkal system for train tickets. The fee hike comes as President Donald Trump tightens his anti-immigration stance during his campaign for elections in less than a month.
USCIS released the new fee requirement on October 16 and has made it effective from October 19— thereby giving less than one business day’s notice to employers who may opt for this mechanism. Any petition that is postmarked on or after October 19 will be rejected and returned to the employer if it does not include the new fee, according to USCIS’s statement.
Industry experts said the fee hike would have a short-term cost impact on IT Indian companies ramping up hiring in the US and offshoring projects elsewhere to overcome the visa-related issues. Companies, in their latest earnings season, said most of their US workforce is no longer dependent on visas.
Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest IT services company, has said its location-independent Secured Borderless WorkSpaces (SBWS) delivery model and hiring in the US would help it mitigate visa risks. “I’m not losing sleep over it,” said its Chief Human Resource Officer Milind Lakkad. “The changes in the mindsets of our customers to have a location-independent delivery is also going to play a significant role going forward. It is a big change that has happened six months ago and now. So all of these factors will play in mitigating that visa risk.”
“Premium processing is used in 10-15 per cent of H-1B and L-1 petitions. Though it is used by employers infrequently, employees themselves can pay for premium processing to expedite their case. Employees are not allowed to pay for other H-1B or L-1 government fees. Also, an injunction is unlikely as the fee has been increased under the Appropriations Act,” said Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, a Mumbai-headquartered immigration law firm.
“Once the premium processing expansion is in effect, it is expected to generate significant new revenue for the agency, which over the summer threatened to furlough 70 per cent of its workforce to close a budget shortfall,” said US immigration law firm Fragomen in a statement. The USCIS warned in August it may furlough around 13,000 of its employees due to budget issues.
The fee hike decision comes days after the government published a set of rules that will result in US companies paying more to hire foreign workers, as they hiked the minimum wages and narrowed the eligibility criteria for visa applicants.