Just days before the the first wave of new H-1B applications begins to arrive, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suspended premium processing. It’s the second time in two years the government halted the expedited handling program. It expects the suspension will last through Sept. 10.
The suspension only applies to those petitions subject to the 2019 fiscal year visa cap. Petitions not subject to the visa limits and those that meet the USCIS criteria for expedite processing will continue to receive premium processing.
Premium processing allows employers whose H-1B petitions were selected in the lottery and who paid the $1,225 premium fee to have the government process it in 15 days, rather than in the 3 to 6 months it typically takes. Premium processing is no guarantee of approval. It just provides a way for employers to learn faster that their petition was selected and to receive notice of approval or deficiencies, including a Request for Additional Evidence (RFE).
Suspensions of the premium processing program are not unusual. As in this case, premium processing is suspended to allow the USCIS to handle backlogs in the H-1B process. The government receives about 200,000 H-1B petitions annually for 85,000 visas. Requests for the 2019 fiscal year can start to be made on April 2.
In announcing the current suspension, the government said it’s to allow it 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.
In a handful of situations, employers can make an “expedite request” to the USCIS. These reasons are:
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- Severe financial loss to company or person
- Emergency situation
- Humanitarian reasons
- Nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States
- Department of Defense or national interest situation, but only if made by a governmental entity
- USCIS error
- Compelling interest of USCIS.
However, it’s up to the discretion of the USCIS whether to accept an expedite request.