On March 3, 2017, a startling announcement was released: the USCIS will suspend the premium processing service for all petitions filed for H-1B status after April 3, 2017. The official statement is that this H-1B premium processing suspension may extend for up to six months and will prohibit petitioners from filing the I-907 form to request premium processing.
What is Premium Processing?
If you and your attorney have recently decided that the H-1B visa is the best choice for your immigration situation, then you may be unaware of this unique service. Premium processing is a feature that applies to both the I-129 nonimmigrant petitions and the I-140 immigrant petition (green cards). This service expedites the usual processing time and shortens it from an average of six months to 15 calendar days for a fee of $1,410.
Because the H-1B visa requires the I-129 petition, it is eligible for premium processing under normal circumstances. However, this does not increase the chances that your petition will be selected in the lottery nor does it change the earliest possible start date for your employment. Due to the strict dates involved with both filing and beginning employment, premium processing may not be as advantageous as it seems at the outset.
For some petitioners, especially those who were filing for H-1B employer transfers or extensions, this service is a powerful tool to help meet strict deadlines. However, for several reasons we will discuss later on, the USCIS has suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions.
You can read the official announcement on the USCIS website.
How This Affects H-1B Petitions for 2018
No petitions will be processed with this service on or after April 3, 2017. Because April 3 is the date that the USCIS will begin accepting petitions, then this means that premium processing will be completely unavailable for the 2018 H-1B season.
If the USCIS issues an RFE, you need to transfer employment, or you need to extend your status, then you will not be able to use premium processing as long as this suspension is in effect. Be sure to consult with your immigration attorney to learn exactly how this applies to your case.
What About the Master’s Exemption?
The H-1B premium processing suspension announcement clearly states that the suspension will apply to all petitions filed for the 2018 regular cap as well as the master’s degree or advanced degree cap exemption. It is important to note that the USCIS will also suspend the premium processing service for petitions that are cap-exempt (such as nonprofit employer petitions).
Does This Affect Any Other Visas?
While the premium processing service is available to all visa classifications that use either the I-129 or I-140 forms, only those filed under the H-1B visa will be affected. To reiterate, if you are petitioning for an L, O, EB, or any other classification of visa that usually has premium processing, then this suspension does not apply to your case.
Why Did They Suspend Premium Processing?
According to the H-1B premium processing suspension announcement, the USCIS will suspend premium processing for several reasons.
The first is that this suspension will allow the USCIS to lower the average H-1B processing times by temporarily eliminating the premium processing preference block. Meaning that, because the USCIS has received a dramatic increase in requests for premium processing in the last few years, they would be able to address long-pending petitions that have been pushed to the back due to the preference given to petitions with premium processing.
The second reason for this H-1B premium processing suspension is that many H-1B holders request for an extension of status before their period of stay is over. This is a very time-sensitive immigration situation and delays could result in the applicant being considered “out of status” if they remain in the country after their visa expires. However, if they do not file with premium processing, then their petition will need to wait until petitions with premium processing are adjudicated. This significantly increases the risk of problematic delays.
Will There Be A Refund?
The USCIS does not have a long history of issuing refunds to petitioners. However, they have announced that a refund for the premium processing fee will be given if both of the following conditions are met:
- The premium processing request (I-907) was filed before the start of the H-1B premium processing suspension on April 3rd, 2017.
- The USCIS failed to process the petition within 15 calendar days.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
The experienced attorneys here at SGM Law Group are no strangers to the constantly-changing policies of U.S. immigration law. When news such as the H-1B premium processing suspension for 2018 is released, you can be sure that our immigration attorneys are ready to answer any questions you may have.
We have an extensive history of meeting strict deadlines and handling difficult immigration cases. If you would like to contact one of our attorneys about the H-1B visa, you can fill out this simple form to see if you qualify for a free consultation today.