Premium Processing for Some H-1B Visas Set to Resume

Business visas could take longer to secure, administration officials say

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer June 23, 2017
Premium Processing for Some H-1B Visas Set to Resume

Expedited processing for H-1B petitions will resume "as workloads permit," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced June 23.

The agency also said that it will resume premium processing for H-1B petitions filed for medical doctors under the Conrad 30 Waiver program beginning June 26.

The Conrad 30 program allows certain medical doctors to stay in the United States on temporary visas after completing their medical training to work in rural and urban areas that have a shortage of physicians.

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

USCIS announced in March that it was going to suspend expedited processing for all H-1B visas for up to six months beginning in early April. Premium processing guarantees that a petition gets resolved within 15 calendar days, and if not, the premium processing fee—currently $1,225— is refunded.

Wait Times for Foreign Business Travelers May Increase

President Donald Trump's administration revoked a provision put in place to expedite visa processing times for business travelers coming to the U.S. in the interest of national security and "careful, accurate vetting of visa applicants."

The executive order, issued quietly June 21, deletes a subsection of a 2012 order from then-President Barack Obama that directed the State Department to "ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application."

"Obama's order was meant to help encourage tourism [including business travel] into the U.S. by calling for faster visa processing," said Sameer Khedekar, a partner with the Pearl Law Group, an immigration law firm in San Francisco.

The White House said that removing the guideline gives the State Department flexibility to decide when longer processing times may be appropriate, instead of forcing it into a "rushed process to accommodate an arbitrary deadline."

Khedekar said that it is likely that higher-volume consulates will revert back to pre-2014 processing times that "sometimes stretched to six weeks or more."

In addition, he argued that longer processing times are not necessary to guarantee more effective screening of visa applicants. "In fact, many within the State Department have privately argued that posts have already been able to balance 'extreme vetting' practices with speedy visa processing," he said. "For example, they have been routinely issuing 221(g) administrative processing holds on any applicant that gives off even a scent of a security threat. The resulting background investigation would then take several weeks or months. Why require every single applicant to endure longer processing times when the current system already seems to work?"

The order follows a series of efforts by the Trump administration to implement what the president referred to as "extreme vetting" for the visa application process.

The State Department recently approved a new questionnaire (Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants) requiring some visa applicants from "populations warranting increased scrutiny" to provide their travel history, including source of funding, for the last 15 years; employment and address history for the last 15 years; phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the last five years; and names and dates of birth for all siblings, children, and current and former spouses. These applicants will also be asked to provide their social media identifiers and handles for the last five years.

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