What should CIOs and hiring managers prepare for in the 2014 H-1B application process? Experts say beware new twists.
Planning to sponsor applications for new H-1B visas next year? You’d better start prepping now.
Experts expect the visa, which enables non-US citizens that meet certain criteria to work legally on American soil, to be in high demand in 2014. The window for new applications opens on April 1, and if 2013 is any indication, the 65,000 available visas will be snapped up in a matter of days. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reserves an additional 20,000 H-1Bs for workers with advanced degrees.
1. Be ready to submit on — not after — April 1
Teleborder CEO James Richards said his firm, which makes cloud software for automating the bureaucracy employers manage when hiring international workers, is advising clients to have applications completed in advance and ready to submit as soon as the application window opens on April 1. That’s because USCIS keeps the window open only until it hits a federally mandated cap of 65,000 new visas, plus a separate allotment of 20,000 new visas for workers with advanced degrees. (Successful applicants receive their visas on October 1 of the same calendar year.)
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In 2013, that window lasted less than a week — and USCIS still received 124,000 petitions in that span.
“We expect it to be similarly oversubscribed for 2014,” Richards said in an interview. Once the application period closes, USCIS won’t accept any additional new petitions until the following year.
2. Anticipate increased scrutiny
There’s a heavier burden of proof on H-1B applicants and their prospective employers these days, and that’s likely to continue in 2014. Five or six years ago, Richards said, just 4% of new H-1B applications received a request for evidence (RFE) from USCIS — additional questions or documentation needed to clarify or support the candidate’s visa qualifications. Richards said that one in four H-1B applications received an RFE last year. “It’s gone from 4% to over 25%, and we expect a similar rate to continue this year as well.”
As a result, employers hoping to hire foreign talent need to be comfortable with potentially invasive RFEs with questions — not just about the candidate but about the company as well. For instance, Richards has seen an uptick in USCIS scrutiny of the employer’s fiscal health and viability, and corresponding requests for business plans, financial statements, and the like.
“We’ve even seen people asked for the leases on their office space, photos of their offices, and floor plans, just to prove that they exist,” Richards said. “Before, USCIS would kind of take the company at its word, and if you had a taxpayer ID number you were in the clear.”
3. Prepare for a potential paperwork avalanche
With that increased scrutiny comes paper — and lots of it. “Companies need to be prepared to submit a lot more documentation than they used to,” Richards said.
If you’re disorganized or downright sloppy, expect tough sledding in the application process and potentially severe compliance penalties down the road.
“There’s a lot of paperwork and audits to just make sure that you are doing what you should be doing as an employer and that what you are representing in the petition is actually true and accurate,” Ronald Rose, a partner with law firm Rose Carson Kaplan Choi & White, said in an interview.
Indeed, Teleborder’s Richards said such checks are on the rise, noting that both USCIS and the Department of Labor are empowered to audit employers at any time and ask to see all files related to H-1B workers. “If [those files] don’t exist, you’re going to be hit with heavy, heavy sanctions,” Richards said.