State Department Visa System Hardware Meltdown
The State Department computer system that supports visa stamp issuance has suffered a major hardware meltdown. This happened on or about June 9, 2015 and is unlikely to be fixed any sooner than Friday, June 26, 2015, and may take even longer than that date to fix. Even when the computer system again becomes operational, the State Department will have a 3 week or greater backlog of applications to process. Some high volume posts receive approximately 1,000 applications each business day, which would equate to a 15,000 application backlog accumulated within the 3 week period — for each high volume post. Also, summer is a busy processing season for F-1 students preparing to start school in August or September, H-2A agricultural workers coming to help with the harvesting of summer and fall crops, new H-1B petitions for the fall, and many others applying for a visa stamp while children are out of school for the summer. Note that consular officers also take summer vacations, meaning that even in the course of a “normal” summer there is often a larger workload with less staff to process the applications.
Persons planning to apply for a new visa stamp abroad this summer should note that what was previously a 1-2 week process may take 2-4 weeks or possibly longer to complete during the summer months.
USCIS confirmed that it received approximately 233,000 H-1B petitions which were allocated via lottery system among the 65,000 regular cap and 20,000 additional visas set aside for persons who have obtained a U.S. master’s or higher degree. Any employee who is in line for a visa petition should have received a case receipt notice by now. USCIS has already started issuing some petition approval notices. Petitions that did not receive a visa number will be returned over the course of the next few weeks.
Please note that the cap only affects H-1B visa petitions filed on behalf of a foreign worker for the first time. H-1B extension cases, H-1B change of employer cases, or initial cases acknowledged as received by USCIS should not be affected. Further, some employees affected by the cap may have additional work visa options including F-1 practical training, TN, E, J, H-1B1, L, O-1 and even permanent resident visas. Other foreign workers may need to wait outside of the U.S., possibly at a foreign subsidiary, until new H-1B visas become available. As the available case options will be unique to each individual employee, we recommend that you contact an immigration attorney regarding any specific employees you may be considering for H-1B status.
Lastly, please note that USCIS has suspended 15-day premium processing for extension and change of employer petitions (if requesting a new I-94 in place of consular processing) until July 27, 2015.
USCIS has been updating and expanding application and petition forms, which include the addition of new questions and a scannable 2D barcode at the bottom of each form page. The barcode provides a way for USCIS to scan to upload data fields to replace manual data entry in order to reduce USCIS typographical errors. At some point in the distant future, USCIS may develop an on-line filing system, but that has not been possible so far even though USCIS has spent a lot of time and money (more than $1 billion) to move in that direction.
Previously 4 pages, the current I-485 application is 6 pages long. USCIS will soon release a new I-485 form that will be more than 20 pages long. In a similar way, the N-400 naturalization application was recently expanded from approximately 10 pages to more than 20 pages. The form preparation part of most cases is often only a minor portion of the work required as there is often a significant amount of supporting documentation to prepare beyond the forms. In any event, the new longer forms highlight USCIS’s move in the direction of a more “robust” adjudication process, as does its continuing expansion of its officer core through the addition of new hires.