USCIS Extends and Expands Temporary Suspension of Premium Processing of Certain H1B Petitions

 

Introduction

On August 28, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it is expanding its temporary suspension of premium processing of certain H1B petitions on September 11, 2018 [PDF version]. This expanded suspension of premium processing for certain H1B petitions with last until February 19, 2019. You may read our article on the initial suspension, announced on March 20, 2018, in the relevant section of this article [see section].

New Suspension of H1B Premium Processing

The initial suspension of H1B premium processing applied to 2019 cap-subject H1B petitions. It was slated to expire on September 10, 2018. However, that suspension will be expanded, and it will now also cover “all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers,” with exceptions to be discussed below. You may read about the 2019 cap-subject H1B suspension in the following section [see section].

Notwithstanding the expansion of the premium processing suspension, the USCIS states that it will continue premium processing of Form I-129s that were not subject to the initial March 20, 2018 suspension, but that are subject to the September 11, 2018 suspension, provided that the Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service associated with such Form I-129s is filed before September 11, 2018. In these cases, the USCIS will still return the premium processing fee if it does not complete processing within the 15 calendar day premium processing period.

H1B Petitions not Subject to the Premium Processing Suspension

Certain Form I-129 H1B petitions are not subject to the suspension of premium processing.

First, cap-exempt H1B petitions filed exclusively at the California Service Center because either (1) the employer is cap-exempt or (2) the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap exempt institution, entity, or organization, may still be filed with a request for premium processing service. We discuss H1B cap exempt institution in a full article on site [see article].

Second, petitions filed exclusively at the Nebraska Service Center by petitioners requesting a “Continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer” (Box b. on Part 2, Question 2, Page 2 of the current Form I-129) may, in some circumstances, still request premium processing. The first circumstance is if the petitioner makes a concurrent request to “[n]otify the office in Part 4 so each beneficiary can obtain a visa or be admitted” (Box on Part 2, Question 4, Page 2 of the current Form I-129). The second circumstance is if the petitioner files a concurrent request to “[e]xtent the stay of each beneficiary because the beneficiary now holds this status” (Box c. on Part 2, Question 4, Page 2 of the current Form I-129).

Furthermore, the suspension of premium processing of Form I-129 H1B petitions does not apply to Form I-129 petitions for other nonimmigrant classifications. To learn more generally about the other nonimmigrant classifications covered by the Form I-129 and premium processing, please see our full article on the subject [see article].

Effect of Filing a Barred Premium Processing Request During Suspension

The USCIS will reject any Form I-907 associated with a H1B petition for which premium processing is suspended during the duration of the suspension. If the petitioner, in this case, submits one combined check for the Form I-129 and Form I-907, the USCIS will also reject the Form I-129 H1B petition.

No Effect on Expedited Processing

The suspension of premium processing for certain H1B petitions has no bearing on eligibility for expedited processing, a separate benefit. If an H1B petitioner establishes that it meets one of the expedite criteria, it may be granted expedited processing. We discuss expedited processing in a separate article [see article].

USCIS Reasons for Extension and Expansion of H1B Premium Processing Suspension

The USCIS provided three reasons for its suspension of H1B premium processing.

First, the USCIS stated that the suspension will allow it to process long-pending petitions. Second, the USCIS stated that it will allow it to “[b]e responsive to petitions with time-sensitive start dates…” Third and finally, the USCIS stated that it will use the suspension period to “[p]rioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark.”

We discuss the 240-day rule and employment authorization for certain H1B nonimmigrants with pending extension of stay applications in a separate article [see article].

March 20, 2018 Suspension of Premium Processing of Certain H1B Petitions

On March 20, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will temporarily suspend premium processing for fiscal year 2018 H1B petitions that are subject to the fiscal year 2019 cap [PDF version]. The USCIS made this decision in order to reduce overall H1B processing times. It states that the suspension will allow it to process long-pending H1B petitions and prioritize adjudication of H1B petitions nearing the 240 day mark.

The suspension of premium processing was expected to last until September 10, 2018. However, as we discussed above, the suspension has been extended until at least February 19, 2018.

Aside: Premium Processing Fee Increase

Three days after the USCIS made its announcement about the H1B premium processing suspension, it announced that beginning on October 1, 2018, the premium processing fee will increase to $1,410. To learn more about the fee increase, please see our full article on the subject [see article].

Conclusion

The USCIS's expansion and extension of the H1B premium processing suspension will mean that many H1B petitioners, save for those who fall within the limited exemptions, will not be able to take advantage of the premium processing service until at least February. H1B petitioners should work closely with an experienced immigration attorney for a full understanding of the H1B petitioning rules and requirements and for guidance on how to navigate the current H1B petitioning environment.

We will continue to update the website with more information as it becomes available. To read about our discussion of the prior suspension (now expired) of H1B petitions subject to the FY 2018 cap, please see the following link: [see article].