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All H-1B Petition Premium Processing Suspended as of April 3, 2017

Written by Sujata Ajmera on March 6, 2017

On Friday, March 3, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it plans to suspend the premium processing program for all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017. This suspension of expedited processing will include Fiscal Year 2018 H-1B Cap cases, as well as cap-exempt petitions.

The Premium Processing program is an expedited filing option for certain nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions. Under this program, Petitioners opt to pay an increased filing fee amount in order to have their cases acted upon by USCIS within 15 calendar days. The expedited option assists businesses in hiring and retaining workers quickly for business or travel purposes. It is also considered advantageous in H-1B Cap-subject cases because employers are notified much faster when their petitions are accepted and approved under the cap.  This allows companies to begin making alternative plans for employees whose cases are rejected or denied much sooner than if they had filed a case through regular processing.

USCIS, in a statement confirming the program’s suspension, stated that this suspension is being implemented in an effort to reduce overall processing times of regularly filed H-1B Petitions. Regularly filed cases are currently taking upwards of 8 to 9 months to process, and USCIS confirmed that the program suspension was likely to last at least 6 months to allow adjudicators to catch up on the already existing backlog.

Because of the glaringly slow H-1B processing time, it is possible that H-1B cap cases filed for this fiscal year will not be approved in advance of the October 1st start date unless USCIS can quickly bring the processing times down to under 6 months. Further, companies that rely on the premium processing program to facilitate international travel for its employees should plan to file for extensions of status as early as possible to try to avoid that individual being stuck inside of the U.S. while the petition is pending approval. Employers are encouraged to work with their HR teams and legal counsel to plan ahead in light of the suspension, as it will certainly impact business and employment continuity, as well as travel eligibility for many members of their workforces.

USCIS has stated, however, that it will accept an expedite request for an H-1B if a Petitioner can demonstrate that it meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Severe financial loss to company or person;
  • Emergency situation;
  • Humanitarian reasons;
  • Nonprofit organization whose request furthers the cultural and social interests of the United States;
  • Department of Defense of national interest situation;
  • USCIS Error; or
  • Compelling interest of USCIS.

To demonstrate that a company’s need for an expedited H-1B approval falls under one of these criteria, significant documentary evidence must be submitted and the ultimate decision will be at the discretion of USCIS. We will continue to update you on any policy initiatives or changes as they are released.