Premium Processing Will Be Available for This Year’s H-1B Cap Cases

The expedited service will be split into two phases

March 20, 2019
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Premium processing—the federal government's popular service that promises employers a judgment on their visa petition within 15 days—will be an option for this year's cap-subject H-1B visas, but only after a delay and being split into two phases.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that employers filing a fiscal year (FY) 2020 H-1B cap-subject petition on April 1 will be able to apply for premium processing in stages, so that the agency can best manage the cap-season workload without fully suspending the service over cap season as in previous years.

Premium processing allows H-1B employers to pay an additional $1,410 fee for faster processing of their petitions.

In the first phase of processing, employers requesting a change of status to an H-1B under the FY 2020 cap will be able to request premium processing concurrently with their petitions on April 1. However, processing for these cases will not begin until May 20 at the latest. Employers typically petition for a change of status for students with F-1 visas to the H-1B visa in order to hire them for a professional role.

The second phase for premium processing will be available in June and includes all other FY 2020 cap-subject petitions.

"The resumption of premium processing is good news," said Barbara Chin, an attorney in the Boston office of Mintz. "The use of premium processing is a quick way to determine if a case is chosen in the H-1B lottery if, as we expect, more than 85,000 H-1B petitions will be filed within the first five business days of April," she said. "The resumption of premium processing is also beneficial for H-1B petition extensions where a decision is needed expeditiously due to international travel needs."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Obtaining U.S. Employment Visas]  

Reminder: H-1B Visa Selection Process Reversed

Effective April 1, USCIS is reversing the order that H-1B cap cases are selected. Previously, the government conducted a lottery to award visas to 20,000 advanced-degree holders first. Those who weren't chosen then got a second chance with the other H-1B petitions in a larger 65,000-visa lottery. This year, USCIS will first run the regular H-1B cap lottery to meet the 65,000-visa quota with all advanced-degree earners included. It will then put the remaining applicants with U.S. master's degrees or higher into the separate lottery for 20,000 visas.

The change is expected to "help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries," and result in more than 5,300 additional H-1Bs allocated to individuals with U.S. advanced degrees, according to USCIS.

New H-1B Data Hub

USCIS also announced that the public will be able to search for more information about H-1B employers. A new H-1B employer data repository will be available April 1 and be searchable by fiscal year, industry code, company name, city, state or zip code. The data hub is part of a continued effort to increase the transparency of the visa program and "will give the public the ability to calculate approval and denial rates and to review which employers are using the H-1B program," the agency said.

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