U.S. suspension of premium processing for H1-B visas creates opportunities to attract high-tech business to the Caribbean: Barbados as a model

The temporary suspension of premium processing of H-1B petitions

With the recent uncertainty regarding the Trump administration’s current position on skilled immigrants, including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) announcement that starting April 3 it temporarily  suspended the Premium Processing program for H1-B visas,  companies may want to look for new jurisdictions where they can locate highly skilled immigrants. The main industry which utilizes the H1-B program is the high-tech sector, which requires certain types of infrastructure to function effectively.

The H-1B visa allows foreign professionals to work in the U.S. for up to six years.  The fast-track processing option has been utilized to fill positions for new projects on short notice.  These visas are frequently used at large technology companies to bring top engineering talent to their U.S. offices.   The U.S. allows only 85,000 people per year to enter the U.S. on H-1B visas.

Under the premium processing route, applications for the visa are processed within 15 days following the payment of an additional fee of $1,225.  On the other hand, the standard procedure can take three to six months or even eight to fifteen months.  In fact, a reason for the temporary suspension of premium processing is to facilitate the processing of long-pending petitions, since the USCIS has been unable to process due to the volume of income petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years.

According to recruitment experts, the temporary suspension is in line with the U.S. president’s anti-immigration stance and could hint at a tighter H-1B visa policy in the future.
The suspension of premium processing of H-1B petitions may last up to six months and perhaps longer.  The suspension will not only affect new workers coming to the U.S. on the H-1B program, but also persons who already hold an H-1B visa and are changing jobs within the country (e.g., an engineer who had an H-1B visa with Microsoft is taking a new position at Google).

Although premium processing is suspended, petitioners can submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage.   The petitioner must show that they meet at least one of the narrow expedite criteria (e.g., severe financial loss to the company or person, emergency situation, humanitarian reasons) and documentary evidence to support their expedite request.

In addition to the end of the H1-B Premium Processing Program, the State Department announced new procedures for increased vetting of visas.  The new directive, made in an intradepartmental cable by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, requires consular officials to review the social media accounts of any applicant who has entered territory controlled by the Islamic State. In addition, it requires additional scrutiny of all visa applicants, recommending that consular officials “not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns,” and suggesting officials schedule no more than 120 visa interviews a day. The heightened scrutiny does not apply to visa applicants from visa waiver countries.

ICanada as the main alternative

Canada’s Information Technology (IT) sector is currently growing. In recent years, the Canadian government has taken steps to attract the world’s best IT companies and most promising professionals. Some IT workers, such as computer engineers, may be eligible to apply for Canadian Permanent Residency without a job offer, through the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) or Quebec Skilled Worker (QSW) programs. Many IT workers can also come to Canada as temporary foreign workers if they obtain a Canadian job offer and work permit. Once in Canada, IT workers can enjoy high-paying jobs and one of the highest qualities of life in the world.

Information Technology is one of the most successful industries in Canada today. With statistically full employment, professionals in the field appear to have a high chance of finding and keeping jobs. IT professionals are also compensated very well. The Information Technology Association of Canada has noted that IT professionals are paid an average wage that is 52 percent higher than the national standard.

Web designers and database analysts were named on a recent list as earning some of the 20 highest starting salaries in Canada. Even recent graduates in these fields with little or no career experience make on average more money than their peers in other industries.

IT professionals have several ways to come to Canada and fill these job vacancies. Workers in this sector have a vast array of potential job opportunities, and the Canadian government has taken measures to help these valuable employees immigrate to Canada relatively quickly and easily.

Several immigration programs are open to IT professionals. Two popular Canadian immigration categories, the FSW and QSW programs, have included certain IT fields on their lists of eligible occupations/areas of training. The FSW program is currently open to computer engineers, while the QSW program awards points for a wide range of computer-related professions. These include computer engineering, computer support, computer science and computer science techniques.

In addition, Canada recently opened a new program designed to attract promising immigrant entrepreneurs. The Entrepreneur Start-Up Visa program, the first such program in the world, grants successful applicants Canadian Permanent Residency and helps them to secure funding and support to set up their business in Canada.

With an economy searching for talented IT professionals, IT workers with an interest in working in Canada do not necessarily need to wait to obtain Canadian permanent residency.
In order to come to Canada as a temporary worker, one must be offered a job in Canada and receive a Temporary Work Permit. Interested individuals can search for jobs in Canada by using the Canadavisa Job Search Tool.

Canada has a number of international agreements that help facilitate the entry of foreign workers. Perhaps the most popular is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which facilitates the work permit process for U.S. and Mexican citizens coming to Canada to work in specified professions. Both Computer Systems Analysts and Graphic Designers are listed amongst these professions.

The Caribbean as a potential for skilled hi-tech persons

The inability of high-tech companies to quickly obtain H-1B applications for high-tech workers, either new persons coming from India or changing positions in the U.S., will mean that many of them will want to place the persons in a nearby jurisdiction where they can work with U.S. high-tech companies.

The high-tech companies will want to continue to quickly bring persons from jurisdictions, such as India, so that they can work with them.  To continue to work with them means that the U.S. high-tech companies will want to place these workers in a jurisdiction in the same time-zone, and one which has a good infrastructure, good living conditions, and is safe.

Although Canada seems to be for the above-mentioned reasons the main alternative for U.S. high-tech firms to place their skilled high-tech workers who can at least temporarily not obtain an H-1B visa, Barbados and the Caribbean may be able to serve as an alternative for some of these jobs.

Barbados, as compared to other jurisdictions in the Caribbean, is relatively well-equipped to meet those needs. It is, for its size, exceptionally well-connected regarding telecommunications. Barbados was ranked by the International Telecommunications Union in 2007 as the 14th most wired country per capita in the world, behind only fully developed Western nations like Canada and the U.S., and the highest ranked in the Caribbean or Latin America.  Barbados has long played a key role in transatlantic communications, and is connected by transatlantic cables originally laid by the British during the colonial period. In 1982, it became the first Caribbean nation with fiber optic telecommunications cables.

Barbados has strong broadband internet access, with widely available ADSL services, Frame Relay services, and additional, more advanced services , including an advanced cloud computing platform available to businesses throughout the nation and provided by Digicel.

While the Cable & Wireless Company, a legacy from British colonization of the island, had a monopoly in cellular services, the government negotiated an end to the monopoly in 2003, and now mobile providers include Flow and Digicel – the 2007 report showed that from 2000 to 2004, Barbados had a telephone usage rate of 124 phones per 100 people, higher than Canada or Japan.

Barbados has invested heavily in terms of both resources and planning to create an infrastructure for ICT, and a population that can enjoy its benefits. Community Technology Programs have succeeded in placing computers in community centers across the country to establish nationwide access, and the government has invested millions in the Education Sector Enhancement Programme (ESEP, and previously known as EDUTECH), which succeeded in integrating information technology into Barbados’ public and private schools.  Additionally, the government’s multimillion dollar investment in ICT infrastructure has allowed them to fully utilize the infrastructure to provide additional services in many sectors, such as banking, insurance, and customs enforcement.  Hence, on the 2006 Digital Opportunity Index, an international metric rating a country’s success in utilizing ICT and making it widely accessible, Barbados ranked 27th of 181 countries, best in the Caribbean, behind only

Canada and the U.S. in the Americas.

In terms of other types of infrastructure, Barbados is connected to the world through Grantley Adams International Airport, which has year-round direct flights to Charlotte, Miami, Toronto, London, Atlanta, Boston, New York, Bogota and numerous locations throughout the Caribbean. It is among the highest-ranked countries in the world with a 99.7 percent literacy rate, offering free public education through university, with numerous post-secondary schools including the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic (SJP), the Barbados Community College (BCC) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill campus. Barbados has a well-developed medical sector which includes two major public hospitals, medical laboratories, a well-established dental sector, and full medical specialization. The Barbados Postal Service, run by the government, has 18 post offices around the island, and offers full international services; FedEx, DHL and UPS also operate in Barbados. The island maintains a diversified electricity supply, utilizing solar power as well as other sources to keep a consistent and reliable supply of electricity at all times.

Barbados has been ranked first in the world (jointly with other nations) in political liberties and civil rights, was ranked by the UN HDI as 31st of 177 countries in 2006, ranked 38th in 2003 in GDP per capita and 32nd out of 155 countries in economic freedom in 2005 by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation.  It was ranked by the World Economic Forum in 2015 as 39th of 143 countries in its Networked Readiness Index, which measures the nation’s readiness to become a marketplace for information and communications technology.  This ranking was higher than any other Caribbean nation, below only Chile (which ranked 38th) among Latin American nations, and comparable with fully developed European nations such as Spain.

One success story of the Barbadian investment in ICT infrastructure is that of ACR Business Solutions. Founded by Barbadian husband and wife team Anthony and Celeste Foster, ACR has developed into an internationally recognized and utilized business services and data analysis firm. ACR was one of the first companies in the Caribbean to enter the medical transcription business, and is now transitioning into the IT-intensive field of medical data coding. This work requires a qualified and skilled labor force, one which ACR has been able to find in Barbados and the greater Caribbean. ACR’s success demonstrates the effectiveness with which the Barbadian investment in ICT education has been able to create conditions suitable for the development of a high-tech economy.

In Barbados a short-term attachment is available for 11 months.  The employer or “sponsor” has the responsibility to make the application on behalf of the employee.  Long-term Work Permits are valid for a period of up to three years. In order to become eligible for a long-term Permit, prospective employers must sufficiently prove that no resident or Barbadian national is capable of and willing to fulfill the requirements of the position in question.    Processing of an application for a Long-term Work Permit typically takes six to eight weeks, and applicants can begin work once the application is approved.  Non-immigrants can apply for extensions of the stay.

Barbados can serve as a model for other Caribbean jurisdictions looking to attract high-skill immigrant workers, particularly in high-tech fields that require strong information technology infrastructure. In light of the recent uncertainty in the United States regarding the H1-B visa program, this could prove an increasingly viable way to attract foreign investment and grow the economy.

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Bruce Zagaris

Bruce concentrates his practice in tax controversy and international criminal law. His tax controversy work has included representing individuals on voluntary disclosures, audits, and litigation as well as consulting and serving as an expert witness in criminal trials for defendants and the U.S. Government. Since 1981, he has also represented foreign governments in international tax and financial services, including advising and helping negotiate income tax and tax information exchange agreements. He has also written a number of books and articles, and is an adjunct professor. Bruce is founder and editor of the International Enforcement Law Reporter.
 

Bruce Zagaris
Partner
Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP
Washington, D.C.
United States

T: +1 (202) 293-2371            
E: bzagaris@bcr-dc.com            
W: www.bcr.us www.ielr.com  

 

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T
: +1 (202) 293-2371            
E: bzagaris@bcr-dc.com            
W: www.bcr.us www.ielr.com