Loyola is expecting longer wait times for hiring faculty and staff from abroad after premium processing for the nation’s visa program was briefly suspended in the spring.
As of July 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) resumed accepting requests for premium processing for certain H-1B petitions — visas which allow international professionals to work legally in the United States. Premium processing, which speeds up the hiring procedure by requiring USCIS to respond to a visa application within 15 days, was suspended in April due to the surge of its requests.
The entire hiring procedure — even with a premium processing speed up — can range between 45 to 60 days — and that’s if everything is working smoothly and as quickly as possible, according to Daniel Bordage, associate director of international student and scholar services.
Loyola currently has 30 employees under H-1B visas, and three applications are still pending, according to Bordage.
USCIS caps the number of annual visas they give out at 65,000, but higher education institutions and their affiliated organizations are exempt from that cap and are able to use premium processing again. Congress decided to exempt these institutions because they can help the economy, Carolyn Gwathmey, a USCIS public affairs officer, said in an email to The PHOENIX.
“Congress deemed such employment advantageous to the United States, based on the belief that increasing the number of high-skilled foreign nationals working at U.S. institutions of higher education would increase the number of Americans who will be ready to fill specialty occupation positions upon completion of their education,” Gwathmey said.
At the time of the suspension, Loyola was worried the hiring process would be delayed for two foreign professors they had sponsored. However, the two professors were approved over the summer — one in June and the other in August.
Bordage couldn’t provide the names of these professors due to confidentiality reasons. Since premium processing resumed, Loyola has hired two new international faculty, and only one of the two pursued premium processing.
“It wasn’t as big of a strain as we thought it would be,” Bordage said.
Still, the suspension led Loyola’s Office for International Programs to be more “proactive” with the departments that want to hire international faculty and staff, according to Bordage.
“We are telling them there is a good chance it’s not [going to be] as quick to turn around as they may expect,” Bordage said.
Bordage said the suspension was a stressful process for the international office and hiring departments.
“We had to make the hiring departments aware that we were dealing with a timeline that is out of our control,” Bordage said. “It’s not easy to do … [we] want to be as sure as possible.”
Bordage said he wasn’t personally aware of any Loyola departments that had to pass on international candidates due to the suspension or the length of time it would take to process and approve an H-1B petition. This is because the situation is well-known among the hiring departments, according to Bordage.
“If [the departments] are committed, [there] needs to be an understanding that there will be a wait time,” Bordage said.
Loyola’s Office for International Programs’ new efforts to educate hiring departments about the process and possible delays is a way to prepare for any future changes USCIS may announce.
It’s unknown how another possible surge of premium cases will be handled in the future, even for USCIS.
“While we can’t speculate on what may happen, premium processing has been suspended in the past for cap-subject petitions during previous cap seasons,” Gwathmey said.
Unlike other suspensions of premium processing, this recent suspension was broader in scope, suspending all H-1B visas; the suspension may last longer for non-exempt institutions, according to Gwathmey.
Nonetheless, Gwathmey said the recent suspension effectively reduced the number of pending petitions USCIS was unable to work through at the time by 56 percent.
March 31 — three days before the temporary suspension announcement — USCIS had 11,824 cases pending. As of Sept. 8, USCIS reduced those cases to 5,185 for cases received on or after Oct. 1, 2015. Many of those petitions were pending for more than 210 days.
The number of premium processing applications USCIS has received or processed is not available yet, according to Gwathmey.
Bordage said the international programs office recognizes the importance of having international faculty and staff at Loyola.
“It helps build toward our goals that are identified in Plan 2020 … to bring diversity and broader depths of thought and experience to the university, not only in the classroom but [to the] campus as a whole,” Bordage said.
Jose Maria Calama, a 19-year-old international student studying political science and economics at Loyola, said it’s especially important that his majors have international professors. Calama had professors from Romania and Cuba, both of whom had personal knowledge about the topics they were teaching.
“[Without international professors], we are going to get some mediocre professors in some fields,” Calama said.
Some Loyola faculty and staff said they have also benefited from their international colleagues.
Genevieve Buthod, events coordinator for Loyola’s School of Communication, said international faculty and staff are valuable assets to the university. Buthod spoke about the value of one of her international colleagues, whom The PHOENIX has decided not to name.
“He brings a really different perspective, even on a personal level … especially when talking about American topics,” Buthod said.