When a foreign graduate of a U.S. college or university applies for a job, it is often through the H-1B visa program. For the most part, these visas allow high-skilled workers to work in the U.S. for a three-year period in specialty occupations where U.S. workers are scarce. (H-1Bs are also available for certain other reasons.)

Specialty occupations are defined as those requiring at least a bachelor’s degree and which are so unique, complex or specialized that the duties can only be performed by an individual with that degree or higher. There is a preference for people with higher degrees.

You do not have to be a graduate of an American college or university to qualify for an H-1B. However, many people follow the path of attending U.S. institutions and then applying for jobs for which H-1B visas are available.

When they do, the timing of the visa is crucial. If it is not approved quickly, the person’s existing visa may run out, forcing them to leave the country or remain without authorization. Ideally, the process of getting an H-1B visa should be seamless for international students in science or tech-related fields. After all, they were already vetted for their student visas.

AILA points to increased processing times

Unfortunately, an analysis by the American Immigration Lawyers Association found that the H-1B process has slowed substantially under the Trump administration. Over the past two fiscal years, case processing times grew by 46 percent, even though fewer people are applying.

Processing times of over six months used to be rare. But two changes by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have driven up the waiting time. First, the agency is requesting additional verification from many H-1B applicants — perhaps half, according to one count. Second, the agency temporarily suspended premium processing, where applicants could pay $1,500 to have their applications put on the fast track.

Recently, the USCIS announced it would resume premium processing “as agency workloads permit.” With long backlogs in all its work, however, it is unclear when that might be.

Furthermore, some immigrants complain that there seems to be no objective standard for approval. One man interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said that other people on his same team with the same job title were approved, while he was denied. And yet he worked hard and followed all the rules.

What can you do to minimize the delay?

The most important things to do are apply early and submit a full, detailed application. At Yew Immigration Law Group, we have years of experience helping people apply for H-1Bs and other work- and family-related visas. We can help you ensure your application is done right.