New York Times: “Visa Applications Pour In by Truckload Before Door Slams Shut”

by Joseph McKeown

Yesterday, Monday, April 3, was the first day that US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting H-1B specialized knowledge cap petitions for fiscal year 2018. At the USCIS California Service Center in Laguna Niguel, delivery trucks carrying H-1B petitions began arriving at dawn. While the official USCIS count of total petitions received won’t be released for at least a few weeks, many immigration experts are predicting more H-1B petitions will be filed than in the previous years because many are concerned of possible changes to the H-1B program under the Trump administration. For the last few years, USCIS has received so many petitions that they’ve closed the filing period after only one week. Last year USCIS received over 236,000 H-1B petitions in the filing period.

The H-1B program has been both praised by proponents as an essential tool to find skilled workers, and also criticized as a scheme used by some companies to displace US workers with cheaper foreign labor. President Trump has at times promised to overhaul it, and lawmakers from both parties have drafted bills to revise the program. At campaign rallies, Trump introduced laid-off Americans who had been tasked with training their foreign replacements at companies that included Disney. “We won’t let this happen anymore,” he said in one stump speech.

The Trump administration and USCIS are already making changes to the H-1B program. On Friday, USCIS announced that it was reversing its previous guidance stating that entry-level computer programming jobs automatically qualify as a “specialty occupation,” a change that could affect whether certain positions qualify for the H-1B. Yesterday, as petitions were piling in, USCIS also announced additional measures to further deter and detect H-1B visa fraud and abuse by increasing site visits for certain petitioners. “The H-1B visa program should help U.S. companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country,” USCIS states. “Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged. Protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority for USCIS.”

The Justice Department also warned that it would review any employer who discriminated against American workers by showing a preference for hiring H-1B workers. “The Justice Department will not tolerate employers’ misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against U.S. workers,” Thomas Wheeler, the head of the department’s civil rights division, said in a statement.

When the California Service Center opened Monday morning, the first FedEx truck in line carried 15,000 packages, courier Andrew Langyo told the New York Times. “We’re loaded, and we have more trucks coming,” said Langyo, who returned two hours later in the same truck.  The average H-1B petition is about two inches thick with some as wide as six inches and weighing several pounds, Bill Yates, a former director of the Vermont Service Center, which also processes H-1B petitions, tells the New York Times. Yates recalled some mishaps, like the time a driver headed for the Vermont Service Center drove fifty miles with his truck’s back door open, spilling its packages onto the road, a story that is sure to give immigration practitioners and hopeful H-1B visa recipients major anxiety.

Inside the California Service Center, a government-looking structure that has appeared in such movies as Coma and Outbreak, forty people wearing blue gloves sat around tables opening packages in the mailroom. In a huge warehouse staffed with approximately 1,500 workers those same packages were separated into regular cap cases and master’s cap cases. “This is the day we prepare for months and months in advance,” Donna P. Campagnolo, the center’s deputy director, tells the New York Times. Why has the government has not digitized the process? Campagnolo says: “There’s obviously a lot of paper. There’s no denying it.” The biggest challenge, she says, is “trash overflow.”