Looking Behind a Seemingly Bland USCIS Decision

By David North on May 20, 2015

Correction, May 26. The original version of this blog indicated that some H-4 children of H-1Bs could get work permits as a result of a new edict from the administration, but that is incorrect; only spouses qualify. The text has been updated to reflect this.

Tuesday's announcement that USCIS would "temporarily suspend premium processing for all H-1B Extensions of Stay petitions" is like the proverbial onion — you have to peel away the layers to find the significance of what sounds like a bland reshuffling of workloads.

The decision was made so that agency staff can pass judgment (probably 95 percent-plus favorable) on H-4s seeking employment authorization.

Layer One. At first blush, this looks like a "ladies first" ruling.

Why? Because H-1Bs are a largely male work force (mostly in the IT industries) and the group of H-4s who will get the employment authorization documents are their spouses. So the men will be mildly inconvenienced while the women will get the big benefit of being able to work legally. (I noted in a previous blog that this is a totally gratuitous addition to the American workforce and that the primary beneficiaries of this policy are the corporate giants that employ the husbands — if the wives can get jobs, then there is less pressure on the corporations to raise the wages of the husbands.)

A foreign worker who does not get his H-1B authorization extended right away might be forced, under some circumstances, to postpone or eliminate overseas travel plans. No government agent, not in this administration anyway, will swoop down on him and deport him because he has an out-of-date visa. The suspension of the extensions is unlikely to hurt anyone.

Layer Two. On closer examination this is a medium-sized move to expand the U.S. labor force, at a time when millions of residents (citizens and green card holders) are looking for work.

Why? This is the case because the activity to be reduced (the H-1B extensions) does nothing to expand the work force, it is frankly a matter of keeping the records up to date — but the activity to be increased (the issuance of the EADs to the H-4s) will expand the labor force by something like 180,000 right away, and at the rate of 55,000 a year in the future according to USCIS.

And usually if you increase the supply, that will decrease the price, wages in this case.

Layer Three. Meanwhile, another element of the new ruling shows the agency leaning over backwards in still another way to fatten corporate profits, even if in a small-scale manner.

You see, "premium processing" is a costly process for corporations, but it puts their petitions on one of those notorious "fast tracks" to decision-making. And the additional fee for this privileged treatment is $1,225 on top of other fees. (I find it unseemly that those with money can get better service from the government than those without — but that's another matter.)

But what if the employer pays the fee and does not get the rapid H-1B extension the company paid for? Well, Uncle Sam will give the company its money back.

On the other hand, if you are a green card holder, unsuccessfully applying for your naturalization papers, the government keeps the application fees. People who fail these tests, as you might imagine, are largely people with limited incomes.

As the old saying goes: "them as has, gits."