Suspension of H-1B visa premium processing impacts SF State community

Correction: The print version of this article states incorrectly that Airi Furuuchi is currently in the U.S. with an H-1B visa. Furuuchi plans to apply for this type of visa.

Some academic programs and employment for international students may be at risk as the premium processing of H-1B visas will be temporarily suspended for up to six months, beginning April 3.

The reason for the suspension, as stated on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, is to “process long-pending petitions” and “prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark.”

The H-1B visa allows high-skilled foreigners to temporarily work in the United States with a nonimmigrant status. This type of visa is often a way for nonimmigrant workers to eventually apply for a green card, according to San Francisco immigration attorney Martin Lawler.

It is common for USCIS to issue a temporary suspension of the H-1B visa premium processing when applications received reach excessive volumes, according to Lawler. However, he anticipates the current suspension will last longer than it has in the past.

“What concerns me is that this is just a part of a general assault on the H-1B visa process,” Lawler said.

Lawler said this suspension will affect people who had H-1B visas issued before deciding to go back to school to get a master’s degree because they may have less than two weeks to obtain a new H-1B visa and find work after their master’s studies are finished.

“It’s not like this is going to destroy the H-1B program,” said Lawler. “(But) it will disrupt some people’s employment.”

At SF State, 1,395 international students from 86 different countries enrolled for the Fall 2016 semester, according to the Office of International Programs.  

Airi Furuuchi, a paralegal certificate student at SF State, came from Japan to become an immigration paralegal in the United States.

“I’m a little worried that maybe I am (going to) get hurt because of the executive order, but still I feel certain that help is going to be out there,” Furuuchi said.

Hildy Heath, SF State Office of International Programs director, said the University sponsors 5-10 H-1B visas for new tenured, and tenure-track faculty, every year, and expect to hire five international faculty members for the next academic year.

“It’s only a temporary work authorization,” said Heath. “Most of these people transition into permanent resident status after a couple of years or find other employment or depart the U.S.”

Sacha Bunge, faculty affairs and professional development dean, said that H-1B workers at SF State offer diverse knowledge, training, experiences and backgrounds that are important for the campus community as a whole.

“Without international faculty and staff, our students and colleagues would not have the same exposure to a wide range of unique and global perspectives,” Bunge said.

The premium processing of the H-1B visa requires a $1,225 fee in order for the petition to be ready within 15 days.

“Without premium processing, current H-1B processing times are six to nine months,” said Heath. “A non-U.S. worker can’t start work until the petition is adjudicated and an approval is received.”

The USCIS, a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, processes immigration and naturalization applications and establishes immigration services policies.

With the suspension of premium processing and the attempted travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, the number of international students coming to study in the U.S. has decreased at some universities this year.

“Now people are discouraged,” said Sophie Clavier, former international relations department chair. “No matter what, there’s an impact even on (the) desire to apply for visa.”

The Institute of International Education conducted a survey in February that reflects a 39 percent decline in undergraduate applications for students from Middle Eastern countries to U.S. educational institutions for Fall 2017. Results of the survey also show a decrease in applications from India and China.

 “If you start banning people from coming in, they will go somewhere else,” said Clavier. “So we will lose not only a workforce but we will lose this creativity and scientific mind.”

In addition to the immigration ban, the limited H-1B visa opportunities could further discourage people from studying abroad in the United States.

Zheng-Hui He, a biology professor who hires international students to work at his lab, said diversity in academic programs is important for the SF State community, and the immigration ban and limited working visa opportunities will have a psychological effect on students

“I think (students) bring their unique educational training background, their unique skills, their unique ideas about research and some approaches,” said He. “It’s a wrong message and definitely will affect academic exchange negatively.”