On August 28, USCIS announced the temporary suspension of premium processing (expedited processing) for H-1B cap petitions.

This process has permitted a U.S. petitioner to secure fast track processing of H-1B filings for a fee of $1225.00. USCIS will adjudicate premium processing requests within 15 calendar days. The suspension, which was expected to terminate on September 10, will now likely last until February 19, 2019. Many of the H-1B Cap visa applicants are foreign students in F-1 status. This new USCIS policy signals that foreign students will no longer be permitted to be eligible to work in the United States as of October 1, 2018.

USCIS also announced that it will be expanding the premium processing suspension for all H-1B cases beginning on September 11, 2018, with the exception of the few H-1B cases filed as ‘continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer’ or for Cap Exempt employers, such as universities and institutions of research in this country.

Any new H-1B petition involving a new employer or change in job duties will be subject to the suspension of premium processing. Since individuals may not travel internationally while a petition is pending with USCIS, it would also be important to coordinate filing and travel during this period. It is assumed that both business and holiday travel plans will be disrupted due to this new suspension policy.

USCIS did acknowledge that it will continue to process, as always, all cases that are filed with premium processing requests prior to September 11, 2018. It also confirmed that U.S. employer petitioners may submit expedite requests for pending H-1B cases. Documentary requirements to establish eligibility expedite requests include evidencing:

  • Severe financial loss to the company or person
  • Emergency situation
  • Humanitarian reasons
  • Nonprofit organizations whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States
  • Department of Defense or national interest situations (must be supported by actual U.S. government official/arm of the government)USCIS error, or
  • Compelling interest of the USCIS

USCIS will review expedite requests on an individual and case-by-case basis at the discretion of the Service Center where the petition is lodged.

The rationale for suspension of premium processing given by USCIS is that it will permit it to reduce overall processing times for long-pending petitions that have been held in abeyance due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the need of the government to prioritize those cases pending for close to 240 days. U.S. immigration regulations permit H-1B visa holders to continue to work in the United States for their employer for 240 days after a timely filed H-1B petition extension request is pending at USCIS.

Note that the premium processing program remains available with regard to other visa category requests including, for instance, the L-1, O-1, TN and E visa category. Some I-140 immigrant petitions filed pursuant to approved labor certification applications also continue to remain eligible for premium processing treatment by USCIS.