Every week we comb through the news to find employment trends affecting the hospitality industry so you don’t have to. This week’s topic: visa processing during COVID-19.  

Each year, thousands of employees request a visa so they can travel to the U.S. for work. Applicants hold a variety of positions ranging from technology, to farming, to hospitality. Businesses across the country rely on these workers to round out their teams, often during busy season (typically experienced by hotels and restaurants).   

Visa Processing in 2020

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing many to shelter in place for the foreseeable future, there’s an air of uncertainty surrounding visa processing and if they’ll be processed as normal or put on hold until travel becomes safer. So far there have been various regulations put in place for visa processing this year – see below:  

  • While it’s not fully suspended, Exchange Visitor Programs are strongly encouraged to postpone ALL program start dates for 60 days after March 12, 2020. This applies to all countries. (Source) 
  • On March 20, 2020, U.S. embassies and consulates suspended all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant J1 visa services. Routine visa processing services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date at this time cannot be provided. (Source) 
  • The State Department said on March 19 it would keep processing visas for seasonal workers, after earlier saying it would suspend routine visa services in most countries indefinitely. (Source) 
  • Every year more than 200,000 foreigners get temporary permits (H2A Visas) to work in agriculture across the U.S. Recently the U.S. closed a prominent consulate in Monterrey leaving American farmers scrambling. (Source) 
  • On March 20, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium visa processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice. The Form I-129 is required to receive an H-2B visa which allows foreign nationals to come to the U.S. to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. (Source) 
  • USCIS announced it has received sufficient electronic registrations to reach the FY 2021 numerical limit and has notified all employers whose H-1B registrations were selected. “Due to coronavirus and the economy, I have doubts whether all employers will follow through with their applications,” said Vic Goel, managing partner of Goel & Anderson, in an interview. “Still, it is likely the supply of H-1B visas will be exhausted due to pent-up demand and the inability to hire an individual on an H-1B throughout the course of the year.” (Source) 
  • Given the number of registrations received by USCIS, it is reasonable to assume the 85,000-annual allotment will be reached. The lottery comes only once a year and companies, including those less damaged by recent events, may look to a time when the economy returns to normal. Still, we should not expect that all registrations selected will result in new H-1B visa holders working in the United States. (Source) 
  • A new H-1B professional cannot begin working in H-1B status for another 6 months, until October 1, 2020, or even later if USCIS takes longer to approve the petition. (Source) 
  • *Although the application period for cap-subject H-1B visas opened April 1, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration said it will not start entering application data into its systems until at least May 1 “due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Source)

If your business typically relies on employees with visas, will you be able to fully staff your team without these professionals? This is an important question that should be top of mind. If not, considering reaching out to a staffing partner like LGC who is able to help supplement your team with temporary workers –– reach out to us today. Don’t forget to stay up to date with the LGC blog to receive continued updates about visa processing. 

*This bullet was added after the original posting date to reflect a recent update from USCIS.