US court blocks Trump administration move to hike H-1B, L-1 visa fees

Venkatesh Ganesh Mumbai October 1 | Updated on October 01, 2020 Published on October 01, 2020

In what comes as some respite for skilled visa workers, a US Federal Court has blocked the Donald Trump administration from increasing application fees for immigration.

The US District Court for The Northern District of California blocked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decision to hike H-1B visa fees by 20 per cent and L-1 visa by 75 per cent, which was to take effect from October 2. This is a preliminary injunction. A preliminary injunction is a temporary order made by a court at the request of one party that prevents the other party from pursuing a particular course of conduct until the conclusion of a trial on the merits.

In August, the DHS announced that the cost of H-1B and L-1 visas were hiked by 21 per cent and 75 per cent respectively. Also, other conditions such as companies who employ more than 50 non-American employees (who hold H-1Bs), their employers may have to shell out an additional $4,000 for every visa. After this notification, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and seven other leading immigrants rights organisations filed a lawsuit against the US government. “What the court found was that the fee hike was announced by the government and it had bypassed the public consultation process by introducing the fee hike as an Interim Final Rule (IFR). This is not in keeping with the democratic process that invites public comments on regulations that are not part of a congressional legislation,” said Poorvi Chothani, Founder and Managing Partner of LawQuest, an global immigration.

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Melissa Rodgers, Director of Programs for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, in a statement said: USCIS’ Fee Rule is unlawful and incredibly destructive, and we applaud the court’s decision to protect millions of immigrants and their families. The Rule, which disproportionately harms people of colour, is a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to create financial barriers for asylum seekers, families, and would-be citizens in order to prevent them from obtaining United States residence or citizenship. This is immoral, classist and a blatant violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The injunction will ensure that millions of low income immigrants, applicants for naturalization, asylum seekers, survivors of domestic violence and survivors of human trafficking will be able to affordably apply for the immigration benefits they are eligible for.”

The move is expected to grant some relief to around 5 lakh Indian visa holders.

“Immigrants have a positive effect on the US economy, because their contributions often end up creating more innovation and jobs. This aspect is often overlooked in these policy discussions,” said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration lawyer.

Though this comes as some relief in the backdrop of increased hurdles, which skilled visa holders have to overcome, the issue is not expected to go away soon. “Will this go away for good? I don't think so. The USCIS will find a way to increase the fees but this time they will follow the required protocol,” said Chothani.

As an instance, industry watchers pointed out that on September 30, the administration increased the fees for premium processing and expanded its scope. Companies on their part have increased local hiring. “H-1B applications are reducing from Indian firms and increasingly Americans are being employed locally,” said Ganesh Natarajan, Executive Chairman and Founder of 5F World, formerly CEO of Zensar.

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Published on October 01, 2020
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