H-1B Premium Processing Suspended Until February 2019

Premium processing fee will increase to $1,410 Sept. 30

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer August 30, 2018
H-1B Premium Processing Suspended Until February 2019

​Employers will have to wait until early next year to use the federal government's fast-track processing option for most H-1B visa petitions.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the temporary suspension of its premium processing service will be prolonged until Feb. 19, 2019, and expanded to include additional types of H-1B petitions.

The suspension applies to pending fiscal year 2019 H-1B cap cases and, beginning Sept. 11, most H-1B petitions seeking changes of employer, changes of status and amendments of the terms of employment. USCIS will continue to accept premium processing requests for H-1B changes of employer, changes of status and amendments cases through Sept. 10.

Premium processing will remain available for H-1B status extensions with the same employer without material changes, and petitions for cap-exempt employers such as universities or nonprofit research organizations. USCIS will also continue to accept premium processing requests for other visa types for which the service is eligible.

Under the expedited service, H-1B petition processing times are shortened from an average of six months to 15 calendar days for an extra fee of $1,225 (set to rise to $1,410 Sept. 30).

The agency said that the extended suspension will reduce overall H-1B processing times by allowing USCIS to work through a growing backlog.

"The rationale behind this temporary suspension of the premium processing option for most H-1B petitions seems to be heavy demand and high number of H-1B filings, together with the fact that regular H-1B case processing times have been steadily going up, with some petitions taking more than 10 months to review and process," said Dimo Michailov, an attorney in the Bethesda, Md., office of the Capitol Immigration Law Group.

USCIS first suspended premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions April 2, the day H-1B cap-filing season began, an action taken in recent years to prepare for the high volume of petitions received during the short filing window. But the agency normally reinstated the service in about six weeks. The current suspension lasted much longer and was originally expected to be lifted on Sept. 10.

Michailov noted that those H-1B employees seeking a change of employer or changes to the terms of their employment and who are currently in the United States in valid H-1B status can continue working under the terms of a pending petition. "But for beneficiaries who are abroad or who need to travel internationally, the suspension of premium processing will introduce significant challenges," he said.

That's because traveling abroad while an H-1B change of status request is pending will cause the petition to be considered abandoned by USCIS, necessitating that the individual apply for an H-1B visa abroad to re-enter the United States in H-1B status before beginning H-1B employment.

[SHRM and CFGI eLearning: Hiring Foreign Nationals: Nonimmigrant Visas]

Plan Accordingly

Michailov recommended employers with H-1B workers who have filed or are planning to file H-1B petitions plan carefully, as H-1B petition processing is taking longer.

"We have observed increases in processing times across the board for almost all types of USCIS filings, and we urge proper planning and early filing to avoid problems caused by any processing delays and the lack of the premium processing option," he said.

Maura Travers, an associate in the immigration practice group of Seyfarth Shaw's Boston office, urged employers to file premium processing requests for eligible petitions before Sept. 11 to avoid delayed processing and a possible higher chance of denial due to another USCIS policy going into effect on that day.

"The timing of this premium processing suspension extension and expansion coincides precisely with the enactment of a new USCIS policy memo also effective Sept. 11, in which USCIS may deny petitions for immigration benefits without first issuing a request for evidence or notice of intent to deny if the petition does not contain all required initial evidence to establish eligibility."

Employers can request faster processing, even while premium processing is suspended, if a case meets the agency's expedite criteria, but these exceptions are granted very rarely—for example in emergency situations, for humanitarian reasons, and in cases of severe financial loss to the employer or foreign national.



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