Companies may not file H-1B visa petitions despite their selection

Kiran Rathee

It seems that the Covid-19 pandemic is going to hurt the American dream of various IT professionals in India, as companies may not file their H-1B visa petitions despite their selection by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The USCIS has completed its selection of H-1B candidates for FY2021. It has received 275,000 unique online registrations, 67.7% of which were for Indian nationals. Indian IT companies indicate that about 30% of their online registrations have been selected. Companies can file H-1B petitions for these selected candidates within 90 days from April 1, 2020. But companies may not now need the entire number of candidates selected due to the slowdown in the US and several contracts being cancelled, as a result of the Covid-19 situation.

Certain companies have indicated that they may not file petitions for about 40% of their selected candidates in view of the reduced demand for H-1B workers. The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations. Technology firms, Indian as well as global, use the visa to send highly-skilled employees to the US. As mandated by the US Congress, the USCIS can every year issue a maximum of 65,000 H-1B work visas to highly-skilled foreign workers. It can also issue an additional 20,000 H-1B visas to those workers who have obtained a masters or higher degree from an educational institution in the US.

The slowdown and cancellations of contracts, though, has reduced the demand for H-1B visas. As per estimates, an Indian company needs to spend around $7,000 per H-1B petition and given the fact that the employee may no longer be required in the US, the firms may not file the petitions for many of the selected employees.

However, Poorvi Chothani, managing partner of LawQuest, an immigration law firm headquartered in Mumbai, warns that companies should prepare to file H-1B petitions for all their selected candidates as failure to do so could result in penalties and sanctions. "So far, the US government has neither announced any extension of the filing deadline nor any relief measures in case companies wish to change their H-1B requirements in view of the Covid-19 situation," she added.

As per a statement by the USCIS, the H-1B electronic registration process was well-received by users, who provided a high satisfaction score with the system. Nearly 275,000 unique registrations were submitted during the initial registration period and roughly 46% of all registrations were for prospective beneficiaries with US advanced degrees. Prior to the launch of the electronic registration system, the USCIS conducted robust public outreach to ensure users were equipped to effectively use the new system.