H1-B Employer Holds Off on Visa Extension

By David North on October 3, 2018

More on H-1Bs: Department of Labor Needs a New Set of Penalties for H-1B Abusers

An H-1B employer, worried about new USCIS strictness in the program, has decided not to seek a three-year extension of the worker's H-1B visa, according to an Insidehighered.com article.

Usually a story about H-1B deals with the IT outsourcing companies; and usually the workers are young males from South India; normally the employer is a for-profit entity, usually with a connection to India. The worker in question usually has a bachelor's or a master's degree, but rarely a doctorate.

None of those characteristics apply in this case. The employer is an esteemed American non-profit, Johns Hopkins University (a substantial user of H-1B workers), the worker is a woman, a citizen of the UK, and has a doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Exeter.

She also does not look like a typical H-1B worker, with at least part of her hair dyed blue. She works for one of the Johns Hopkins libraries.

According to reporter Elizabeth Redden's account, Dr. Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel said "[T]heir rationale was that because the way the rules have changed, have become more murky and ambiguous, they [Johns Hopkins] were concerned that my application would be denied. ... [It] might not meet the criteria for a 'specialty occupation'."

She was hired as a "digital scholarship specialist" and published a book on her findings; another was forthcoming. The university praised her work, saying that her departure "was a great loss." She has since returned to England.

I am not an expert on such things, but it strikes me that a computer-wielding person with a PhD and published books to her credit might well be considered as having a "specialized occupation", so maybe Johns Hopkins overreacted to reports of H-1B tightening; further, there may be some other factor than the announced one for the university's decision, a funding problem or a loss of interest in her specialty of digitizing the humanities, for example.

One of the ironies in the story is that Johns Hopkins will not lose an H-1B slot because of its decision in this case. It is a university and all of its reasonable requests for H-1Bs will be met; there is no ceiling on new ones. If one of the IT outsourcing firms had made such a decision, it would have lost one of its H-1B slots, as they are subject to the numerical ceilings that do not touch the universities.

While this instance is an interesting reaction to the presumed new priorities of USCIS, and thus a straw in the wind, I am waiting for some indication that the big users of H1-Bs in Silicon Valley and in the outsourcing business have started to change their hiring practices.