H-1B Visas: 5 Big Trends In 2014

H-1B Visas: 5 Big Trends In 2014

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.

High demand isn’t the only issue new H-1B applicants should be mindful of. Here’s what CIOs, hiring managers, and other stakeholders need to know.

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.)

[ Are you due for a raise? See IT Budgets, Salaries To Grow In 2014. ]

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.

Continue reading at http://www.informationweek.com/strategic-cio/team-building-and-staffing/h-1b-visas-5-big-trends-in-2014/d/d-id/899809?page_number=2 .

What should CIOs and hiring managers prepare for in the 2014 H-1B application process? Experts say beware new twists.

4. Know that “specialty occupation” is no longer a catch-all
Rose noted that “specialty occupation” — the term USCIS uses to describe jobs eligible for H-1B visas — was in the past loosely defined to include a broad bucket of professional capacities requiring a bachelor’s degree. The minimum degree requirement remains, but the definition of what constitutes a “specialty occupation” has grown narrower.

“It’s more restrictive now,” Rose said. “They’re being much tighter in their interpretation of what qualifies as a specialty occupation.”

It’s not the easiest maze to navigate; details as seemingly straightforward as job titles are subject to changing interpretations, so don’t take them for granted.

“With respect to IT, probably safe positions would be ‘software engineer’ or ‘software developer,’ ” Rose said. “But they’re even coming down hard on positions like ‘programmer,’ which generally is interchangeable [with software engineer]. The titles that you use could be problematic.”

Another long-held IT title, “computer systems analyst” (or its counterpart “systems analyst”), has likewise fallen out of favor on H-1B applications. “You used to be able to get H-1Bs pretty easily for that; now they’re kind of questioning whether that is a specialty occupation.”

5. Ensure your potential hires have the right education
A related shift in H-1B screening focuses on the candidate’s education. While the visa has always required a bachelor’s degree or higher, the degree field is increasingly critical for a successful petition. In 2014, applicants with a degree that is unrelated or only tangentially related to the job will face longer odds in the process.

“You have to have a very tight nexus between your major and the position,” Rose said. Before, a candidate with, say, a mechanical or aeronautical engineering degree who also had some software programming skills would likely qualify as a software engineer. “Now, they’re getting very, very restrictive on that. If you don’t have a degree in computer science, you could have some issues getting an H-1B.”





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