On Friday, March 3, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that effective April 3, 2017, it will temporarily suspend premium processing for H-1B petitions. This suspension may last for up to six months. The temporary suspension will apply to all H-1B applications filed on or after April 3, 2017. Therefore, because the current cap-subject H-1B petitions will not be filed before April 3, 2017, the suspension applies to all regular-cap and master's-advanced-degree-cap petitions.

The cap filings refer to the annual limitation on H-1B visas. Under that limitation, only 65,000 visas for bachelor’s degree candidates, and 20,000 visas for master's degree candidates, are issued starting October 1, 2017, the first day of the federal government’s fiscal year. The H-1B applications can be filed six months before that date, or April 1, 2017.

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed using Form I-129.

Why Was This Done?

The USCIS has announced that the rationale for the change is twofold:

  1. The temporary suspension will allow USCIS to process petitions, which it has currently been unable to do due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years; and
  2. The temporary suspension will enable USCIS to prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension-of-status cases that have been pending for nearly eight months.

What Does This Mean?

For U.S. employers, the net effect is that candidate recruitment methods will need to take into consideration that there will be no approval issued before a candidate’s expected start date. This is relevant because most existing H-1B candidates will not commit to a definitive job offer until they have confirmation of the visa approval to change employers. It is currently taking almost 240 days to adjudicate change-of-employer H-1B petitions. In addition, the issuance of receipt notice, which most employers use to determine H-1B change-of-employer start dates, will also be delayed, since under regular processing it takes 1-2 weeks to receive a receipt notice.

Further, travel plans will have to be monitored, since a candidate who is lawfully employed under an H visa extension may not be able to return from a trip abroad until their visa has been approved.

A more detailed monitoring of employer’s H-1B workforce is now required.