Coded Signals from USCIS, on a Friday afternoon, about H-1B and EB-5?

By David North, March 6, 2017

Perhaps I am wrong, but I think the new leadership of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent us coded messages Friday afternoon about the Trump administration's plans for the H-1B (alien worker) and the EB-5 (immigrant investor) programs.

Friday afternoon is the classic timing of government announcements when the government does not want them to secure too much attention. I know, because in a previous life I, too, played that game.

The messages were more suggestive than substantive; there was no overt linkage between the narrow announcements and the broader sweep of government policy and they may well have been totally unconnected to each other.

H-1B. The USCIS announcement, on its face, was understandable only to insiders: "USCIS Will Temporarily Suspend Premium Processing for All H-1B Petitions".

The agency — in direct conflict with the notion that all of us are created equal — has for years given faster decisions to the prosperous corporations using the H-1B program when those companies ponied up an extra $1,225 per form. This non-democratic operation is called "premium processing."

No matter what the new administration's motivation is, it is good that this procedure has been eliminated, at least for a while.

The agency's motivation for the change might be — in a different world — to close the inequality between big users of the H-1B program and the little ones. The Trump administration would be as likely to do this as it would to increase inheritance taxes to put more money in the food stamp program.

I suspect that the real motivation here is to buy time. The new administration apparently has some totally justified worries about H-1B as it stands, and it wants to be able to change how the next round of H-1B applicants is chosen, or perhaps paid. They may — or may not — be thinking about an auction, based on the workers' salaries if there are more applicants than slots.

The immediate problem is timing. Users of the program are currently filing petitions for still more H-1B workers against an annual filing period in the first few days of April.

If the Trump people are going to make a change in the program, and that's a big "if," they have to do so quickly. Premium processing makes it difficult to move rapidly, and hence, I suspect, it has been suspended.

So the coded message is: We are still thinking about changing the H-1B program and we do not want there to be a self-created barrier to that process.

EB-5. The forum for the new clue about EB-5 came in an even more obscure setting, a stakeholder meeting, both in person and over a conference call arrangement. (Whenever I read about a stakeholder meeting for EB-5, which pours money into the coffers of already rich developers, I think that they have the term wrong, it should be "filet mignon holder" meeting.)

There were no political appointees on the rostrum. The ranking official was Nicholas Colucci, who is head of the EB-5 program office, the cleverly named IPO (for the Immigrant Investor Program Office.) He talked of all the improvements that the office was making in terms of scrutinizing investors and regional centers more closely, and then mentioned that the IPO was hiring more people to do these tasks. As a casual aside he said that while the Trump administration has proclaimed a hiring freeze, IPO had been able to secure a waiver of those rules.

All of this translates to me as an indication that the Trump administration will not make an effort to close down the scandal-ridden EB-5 program, a program that the president's in-laws have used extensively in the Trump Plaza development in Jersey City, N.J.