USCIS Suspension of H-1B Premium Processing

March 23, 2017

 

Starting April 3, 2017, USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions, unless premium processing had already been requested prior to April 3. USCIS says the suspension could last up to 6 months, and applies to all Form I-907 H-1B premium processing requests filed on or after April 3, 2017. Premium processing is the USCIS option that allows certain petitioners to pay an extra $1,225 fee for USCIS to take action on their petition within 15 calendar days of filing.

Read the USCIS H-1B Premium Processing Suspension Notice

On March 22, 2017, NAFSA joined the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, in a letter asking USCIS to reconsider its plan to suspend the H-1B premium processing option, describing the number of ways a suspension would disproportionately impact academic and medical institutions.

Read the Associations' Letter to USCIS

Some points to take note of

  • Since Fiscal Year 2018 cap-subject H-1B petitions cannot be filed before April 3, 2017, this suspension will apply to all petitions filed for both the FY18 H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree cap exemption.
  • The suspension also applies to cap-exempt H-1B petitions, including those filed by institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations affiliated with an institution of higher education.
  • While premium processing is suspended, USCIS will reject any Form I-907 filed with an H-1B petition. If the petitioner submits one combined check for both the Form I-907 and Form I-129 H-1B fees, USCIS will reject both forms.
  • H-1B premium processing requests filed before April 3, 2017 and still pending as of that date will continue to be premium processed, as long as the petitioner properly filed an associated Form I-907 before April 3, 2017.
  • Only H-1B premium processing will be suspended. Other types of petitions eligible for premium processing will continue to be eligible after April 3, 2017, i.e.:
    • Form I-129 petitions in the E-1, E-2, H-2B, H-3, L-1, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-2, P-3, Q-1, and TN categories; and
    • Form I-140 petitions filed for: EB-1 aliens of extraordinary ability, EB-1 outstanding professors and researchers, EB-2 members of professions with advanced degrees or exceptional ability who are not seeking a National Interest Waiver, EB-3 Professionals (immigrant workers with bachelor degrees who are members of the professions), EB-3 Skilled Workers (immigrant workers capable of performing skilled labor requiring at least two years of education, training or experience), and EB-3 workers other than skilled workers and professionals.

Possibility of using general USCIS expedite criteria?

USCIS does state that petitioners will continue to have the option to request standard expedited handling of a petition, under general expedite criteria applicable to all benefit requests.

Visit the USCIS Expedite Criteria webpage

USCIS expedite criteria would require an H-1B petitioner to establish at least one of the following, and to support the expedite request with "documentary evidence."

  1. Severe financial loss to company or ​person​;​
  2. Emergency situation;​
  3. Humanitarian reasons;​
  4. Nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States​;​
  5. Department of Defense or ​n​ational ​i​nterest ​s​ituation (These particular expedite requests must come from an official U.S. government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the government.);​
  6. USCIS error; or
  7. Compelling interest of USCIS.​

However, expedited handling is a highly discretionary, case-by-case decision on the part of individual USCIS adjudicators, and H-1B petitioners will have to plan accordingly for standard USCIS processing times (which can be many months) of their H-1B petitions that do not qualify for expedited processing. Cap-exempt institutions of higher education file all of their H-1B petitions with the USCIS California Service Center (CSC), and as of early March, 2017, the processing table shows that CSC is working on H-1B petitions it received on July 2, 2016 (about an 8-month wait).

Check CSC Processing times for Form I-129 H-1B petitions

Why is USCIS doing this?

In its notice, USCIS explains its rationale for suspending the H-1B premium processing program:

"This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times. By temporarily suspending premium processing, we will be able to:

  • Process long-pending petitions, which we have currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years; and
  • Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark"

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