On Friday, March 3, 2017, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) unexpectedly announced the suspension of the premium processing program for all H-1B cases received by the government on or after April 3, 2017. The premium processing program allows a petitioner to pay an additional government filing fee to USCIS in return for a guarantee that the agency will issue a decision on the case within 15 calendar days. Since April 3, 2017 is the first business day of the month, this suspension will impact all H-1B quota cases filed for Fiscal Year 2018 as well as H-1B petitions that are exempt from the annual quota (such as extensions of stay, requests to amend existing H-1B status, and requests for changes of employer). USCIS noted that the suspension may last for up to six months.
Due to the lengthy USCIS processing times for non-premium processed cases, this unexpected development—which occurred less than 30 days before the filing window for H-1B quota cases opened—may impact a variety of matters, including: strategies for continued work authorization under the “cap gap” regulations, which allow certain students to extend their F-1 status until the start of their H-1B employment; international travel; and renewal of driver’s licenses.
USCIS has stated that the discretionary expedite criteria will continue to remain available for petitioners, though past experience indicates that the threshold for satisfying those criteria is high. Ogletree Deakins is analyzing this development and will provide further guidance to employers regarding steps that can be taken to mitigate the impact of this suspension.