The Department of Labor (DOL) is attracting greater attention from employers and their foreign national workers. This attention is due to the department’s wait times for processing employment-based visas significantly growing. In the past two years, backlogs have doubled, affecting small businesses and unique roles the hardest.
The problem stems from employers’ need to advertise positions using the DOL’s approved prevailing wage to U.S. workers before attempting to hire foreign national workers. Following this requirement is the application for a labor certification with the DOL. This step must happen before filing an immigrant worker petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The USCIS has long faced intense criticism alongside the State Department regarding significant backlogs. These backlogs have made it difficult for workers to receive immigration benefits. This difficulty has only increased as the backlogs and delays with the DOL worsened. As such, employers now face another growing barrier to meeting their employment needs.
Small businesses and those hiring for non-standard positions feel this barrier the most. Employers with large numbers of similar jobs regularly file prevailing wage requests throughout the year. This familiarity allows them to recruit for several positions at once. However, this is not always the option for other employers.
The average wait time for approval on a prevailing wage alone has increased from three months to a year. This wage rate is determined based on the position’s specific occupation, region, and skill level. However, it remains unknown what factor has caused these delays.
In total, acquiring an approved determination for a prevailing wage and a permanent labor certification will take an average of more than 16 months. According to a report from the CATO Institute, this has resulted in a backlog for the DOL’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification of 226,837 in quarter four of 2022. These applications account for over 90% of the backlog. The remaining divides among the temporary programs that receive priority. However, these programs amount to a small amount of the backlog.
Many employers can control the impact with workers already employed in the U.S. on temporary visas, such as H-1Bs. However, employees who do not qualify, such as nurses, may see significant struggles. As a result, these extended delays could lead to extended struggles for industries like healthcare.
Unfortunately, employers will continue to face struggles due to these challenges. In addition, they regularly find challenges in the hiring process, including the employment eligibility verification process (Form I-9). However, integrating an electronic I-9 management tool can help eliminate these challenges by providing step-by-step guidance and uniform storage of forms and documentation.
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