Introduction to USCIS Increases H-1B Visa Processing Fees
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently announced an increase in visa application process fees across all categories, including the widely utilized H-1B visa. This non-immigrant visa permits US companies to employ foreign workers in specialized occupations requiring theoretical or technical expertise. The updated fees, effective from 2024, are prompting US employers to reassess their immigration budget planning. In this article, we will delve into the details of the fee adjustments and their implications for H-1B visa applicants.
Fee Hikes Across Various Forms
According to the USCIS website, premium processing fees for several forms, including I-129 (for nonimmigrant workers like those on H-1B and L-1 visas), I-140, I-539, and I-765, have seen increases. Notably, the premium processing fee for Form I-129 has surged by 12%, reaching $2,805 from the previous $2,500. This change necessitates employers to allocate additional resources for H-1B visa applications.
Premium Processing Fee Changes for Students and Dependents
International students, spouses, and dependents of H-1B visa holders using Form I-539 for upgrading their non-immigrant status are also affected by the fee adjustments. The premium processing charge for Form I-539 has risen to $1,965 from the previous $1,750. Similarly, Form I-765, used for employment authorization, now carries a fee of $1,685, up from the previous $1,500.
Shortened Processing Timelines
Premium processing allows for expedited handling of visa applications, reducing the adjudication timeline significantly. While forms I-539 and I-765 are processed within 30 calendar days, the H-1B premium processing timeline is further expedited, taking only 15 calendar days.
Pilot Program for Domestic Visa Renewal
In a recent development, a pilot program aimed at resuming domestic visa renewal for qualified H-1B visa applicants has cleared a review by a top regulatory body under the White House. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) approved the program on December 15, offering a reprieve for qualified H-1B visa holders who can now renew their work visas without the need to travel abroad.
Visa Cap and Next Steps
The announcement comes on the heels of reaching the H-1B visa cap for the year 2024. For candidates not selected in the lottery, understanding the evolving visa landscape becomes crucial. Employers and applicants alike must stay informed about any further developments and adjustments in visa policies.
The USCIS fee increases signal a shift in the cost dynamics of obtaining H-1B visas and related immigration processes. Employers are advised to integrate these changes into their budgetary planning for the upcoming year. The pilot program’s approval for domestic visa renewal represents a positive step, providing relief for H-1B visa holders and streamlining the renewal process. As the immigration landscape continues to evolve, staying abreast of policy changes and adapting strategies accordingly will be key for employers and foreign workers navigating the intricate process of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas in the United States.
Contributed by Sanal Pillai