USCIS has announced the temporary suspension of the Premium Processing service for all H-1B cases filed on or after April 3, 2017. This suspension applies to all H-1B cases filed – including those filed under the FY2018 regular H-1B cap, Master’s cap exemption, H-1B transfer cases, H-1B extensions, and cap-exempt H-1B filings.

The government, not indicating when the suspension would be lifted, noted only that this was intended to “help reduce overall H-1B processing times.” The suspension, according to USCIS, would allow officers to process long-pending petitions and prioritize the adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that have been pending for nearly eight months.

The Premium Processing service is offered for fast-track processing in certain nonimmigrant and immigrant case filings for an additional government filing fee of $1,225. Premium Processing has been popular because it guarantees an initial adjudication within 15 calendar days of filing. Initial adjudications include the issuance of Requests for Evidence to require more information on the filing before a final adjudication can be made.

USCIS noted that petitioners still may request expedited processing (without an additional fee) if they can provide evidentiary proof that at least one of the following expedite criteria is met:

  • Severe economic loss to company or person;
  • Emergency situation;
  • Humanitarian reasons;
  • Non-profit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the U.S.;
  • Department of Defense or national interest situation (these particular expedite requests must come from an official U.S. government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the government);
  • USCIS error; or
  • Compelling interest of USCIS.

A determination for expedited processing is purely at the agency’s discretion, and expedited processing is rare.

This suspension’s most significant effect likely will be on initial H-1B filings for work with cap-exempt employers. These employers have not experienced timing restrictions with H-1B filings, since they are not subject to the “cap” and the inevitable visa lottery. Cap-exempt employers generally can sponsor employees throughout the year, and they benefit from use of the Premium Processing service when employees are needed with little notice. This suspension will require careful planning on the part of cap-exempt employers.

Expect H-1B cap receipt notices by the end of June 2017, and adjudications throughout the summer of 2017.