New Fee for H-1B Applications Hints at Tightening Program

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to institute a $10 registration fee for each H-1B visa application. The agency claims that the added money will allow it to better “adjudicate” those applications. “When DHS creates new USCIS programs through separate rulemakings that require adjudication resources, a fee is necessary to recover the costs of […]


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to
institute a $10 registration fee for each H-1B visa application. The agency
claims that the added money will allow it to better “adjudicate” those
applications.

“When
DHS creates new USCIS programs through separate rulemakings that require
adjudication resources, a fee is necessary to recover the costs of those
resources even where the exact costs are difficult to estimate until the
program is operational,” reads the agency’s
helpful literature
on the matter.

Over the
past few years, USCIS has been systematically cracking down on various aspects
of the H-1B process. For example, the agency recently began asking companies about
the type of work
that H-1B visa recipients will be doing, right down to
vendor agreements, subcontractors, and lists of projects. These requests for
evidence (RFEs) have caused much consternation among companies, and may have
driven a
declining rate of visa approvals
.

Since
President Trump’s “Buy
American and Hire American”
 executive order, which he signed two years ago, the government has
suspended premium processing of H-1B petitions (before resuming it), signaled
an intention
to kill H-4 EAD
, and
planned to completely change how the H-1B lottery is run.

As a side effect of these adjustments and orders, the federal government has released lots of information about H-1B applicants, their companies, and even their subcontractors. A recent dataset from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shows us who is hiring H-1B visa candidates—including the so-called “secondary entities,” which is a designation given to companies that use outsourcing to bring in foreign talent. (Using that dataset, we also identified that H-1B visa hires are most often identified as “software engineers” or “software developers” by title, which isn’t exactly the “specialty occupation” that the visa was ostensibly designed for.)

Dropping
a $10 fee on H-1B applicants during the next visa lottery won’t have a material
impact on the companies looking to source foreign talent. In fact, USCIS argues
that the new registration system, including this fee, will ultimately save some
employers money by rejecting their applications before the ultra-expensive
later stages (per USCIS’s literature: “…estimated that the H-1B registration
process will result in an average undiscounted cost savings for all unselected
petitioners ranging from $42.7 million to $66.8 million annually…”). Nonetheless,
this is yet another example of the federal government tightening the H-1B
process is all kinds of small ways, as part of its broader attempt to overhaul
the system (while keeping at least some of its costs down).

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