Late Friday, March 3, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced that it would suspend premium processing for all H-1B petitions filed on or after Monday, April 3, 2017. Accordingly, April 3, 2017, is the first day that H-1B cap petitions can be accepted for processing.
USCIS’s announcement effectively means that premium processing is not available for any H-1B cap case, cap-exempt H-1B petition, or H-1B petition amendment or extension filed on or after April 3, 2017. USCIS suggests that this suspension could last six months or longer and is necessary to reduce current processing backlogs for H-1B petitions and extensions. In addition, USCIS indicates that this suspension of premium processing for H-1B petitions does not apply to I-129 petitions filed in any other visa classification, including the E, L, O, or TN classification, or to I-140 petitions currently eligible for premium processing.
This unexpected and last-minute change in USCIS policy threatens to impact a number of aspects of the H-1B application flow. First, F-1 students in Optional Practical Training (known as “OPT”) for whom H-1B cap petitions will be filed on April 1, 2017, will be unable to travel abroad and still retain “cap gap” protection or even return to this country. Second, USCIS has not announced how it plans to manage the reporting that these students must do to their schools to secure and keep “cap gap” employment authorization, and to maintain status. Third, employees already in H-1B status who seek to change employers will not be able to secure prompt adjudication if the new employer’s H-1B petition is filed on or after April 3, 2017, and this may further impede their willingness to change employers. Finally, those in H-1B status who had made travel plans to secure new visas and were relying on premium processing to get an expedited approval of their extension applications must revise their plans if the extensions are not received by USCIS on or before March 31, 2017.