Temporary Suspension & Increased Costs for "Premium Processing"​ of Visas

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced two major changes to their "premium processing" programs, which allows employers and foreign nationals to pay an optional USCIS filing fee to guarantee a response on their petition within 15 days.  The first announcement is an increase in the premium processing fee.  Beginning October 1, 2018 the premium processing fee will increase from $1,225 to $1,410.  

USCIS' second announcement is an extension of their ongoing suspension of “premium processing” for most H-1B visa petitions until February 19, 2019.  USCIS had previously announced that they were temporarily suspending premium processing for new, cap-subject H-1B visa petitions until September 10, 2018.  This new announcement, however, extends the previously annouced temporary suspension through February 19, 2019.  Additionally, beginning September 11, 2019, USCIS will also stop accepting premium processing for any H-1B petition seeking new employment, transfer (i.e. “change of employer”), or amendment which are filed with either the Vermont or California Service Centers until February 19, 2019.

USCIS will, however, continue to accept premium processing for H-1B petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer,” and premium processing for H-1B cap-exempt petitions (such as university, nonprofit research institutions, government research organizations) which are filed only with the California Service Center.

While this temporary suspension of premium processing now impacts most H-1B petitions, it does not affect premium processing for other nonimmigrant visa petitions (including L-1, O-1, TN, and others).  Additionally, USCIS will continue to accept premium processing for H-1B petitions filed prior to September 11, 2018 (when the suspension goes into effect).

This announcement is likely to have a major impact on U.S. employers, international students, and most immigrants seeking U.S. work visas.  First, this news likely means that USCIS processing times for all USCIS filings may increase, causing delays in visa issuance.  Even though, in cases of an H-1B transfer, an H-1B employee can begin working with a new employer upon the filing of the transfer with USCIS, many H-1B employees prefer to wait until they actually receive their H-1B transfer approval notice from USCIS before starting employment with a new employer.  As a result, this may cause delays for employers seeking to onboard new employees.

Additionally, international students currently availing H-1B “cap gap” extensions of their OPT and still awaiting USCIS approval of their cap-subject H-1B petition will need to be mindful of their authorized stay in light of USCIS’ recent unlawful presence memorandum for foreign students.  

In light of this news, H-1B employers and foreign nationals seeking to file any H-1B petitions should plan accordingly.  For assistance in preparing for these or delays, please feel free to contact us.

Winning The H-1B Visa Lottery

Starting April 2, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2019. As in years past, if USCIS receives more than the available 85,000 H-1B visas in the first few days of April, they will use a computer-generated random lottery to select the petitions they will process. Based on the number of petitions received in the first few days of April last year (over 199,000) and the previous year (over 236,000), combined with the current market demand for high-skilled labor and reports of possible changes to visa programs in the future, many our anticipating that USCIS will receive over 200,000 H-1B petitions in the first few days of this April. 

Accordingly, time is running out for employers to timely prepare their H-1B petitions for submission to play in this H-1B lottery on April 2nd. Generally, it takes at least 10-14 days to prepare and file an H-1B petition, due to the prerequisite filing requirements of the Labor Condition Application (LCA), which takes up to 7 business days to certify. Therefore, if you are responsible for your businesses' immigration planning and processing and you have already identified your H-1B candidates, please initiate the H-1B visa process in the next two weeks to ensure it is timely filed. 

In light of recent reports of proposed changes to the H-1B work visa program by the Trump administration, USCIS has confirmed that it intends for the H-1B filing process and procedures to remain the same as it has in previous years.  Nevertheless, as indicated by the massive increase of Requests for Evidence (RFE) and denials of H-1B petitions issued by USCIS over the past year, employers and foreign nationals should be prepared to evidence the following, in order to increase their chances of getting their visa petitions approved:

  1. Document the specific scope and educational requirements for the position to show that the position is one which requires a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum to enter the occupation.
  2. Review the prevailing wage rates for the occupation through the Department of Labor’s Wage Surveys to determine whether the wage level is appropriate for the professional position you are hiring for.
  3. Document the nexus between the foreign national’s degree and the occupation they will be hired for.

WATCH my conversation on how to overcome issues with H-1B RFEs

Needless to say, the H-1B visa petition can be a technical and cumbersome application to file.  Working with qualified counsel will help to ensure technical mistakes are avoided and that a comprehensive petition will have the best chance at winning in the H-1B visa lottery.  If you have any questions about the H-1B visa process, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

H-1B Visa Season Starts NOW

In light of recent reports of proposed changes to the H-1B work visa program by the Trump administration, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has confirmed several important details about the upcoming H-1B visa filing season, which will commence on April 2, 2018. Most importantly, USCIS intends for the H-1B filing process and procedures to remain the same as it has in previous years. This is to say that there will be no "preregistration system" and if the petitions received by USCIS exceed the 85,000 numerical cap, a lottery will be used to select the petitions for processing. USCIS also hinted that they may impose a "short" suspension of "premium processing" for H-1B cap petitions (but not non-cap H-1B petitions), as they did last year.

Demand by U.S. employers for H-1B visas on behalf of “highly-skilled” foreign employees was, once again, at high levels last year and is expected to remain high this year. Because it is expected that the 85,000 available H-1B visas will be gone within the first week of April, U.S. businesses should file their H-1B visa petitions on April 2, 2018. Due to prerequisite filing steps which must be completed before the H-1B petition can be submitted to USCIS, however, employers should begin preparing their petitions now to ensure they are ready to submit on April 2nd.

Despite rumors of potential changes to the H-1B visa program, the H-1B filing process and procedures will remain the same as they did in previous years.  Therefore, employers should assess their upcoming workforce needs and identify whether any foreign national employees will require H-1B visa sponsorship. These individuals may include:

  • New graduating foreign students in the U.S.
  • Overseas individuals seeking to start work in the U.S.
  • Foreign individuals in the U.S. already working under a different nonimmigrant status for a different employer and are seeking to change jobs

Failure to file your H-1B petition on April 2nd may jeopardize your chance at securing an H-1B visa for your employee. After the 2018 H-1B visas are gone, employers will have to wait until April 1, 2019 to file H-1B petitions again, and foreign employees may lose their lawful status and authorization to work. The clock is ticking…don't delay!

If you have any questions about the H-1B visa process, contact me.

USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for H-1B Cases

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that, it will resume “premium processing” for all H-1B visa cases, including pending H-1B visa cap-subject petitions.  USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing of all H-1B petitions in April 2017, however, this new announcement means that all H-1B cases, including pending petitions pursuant to both the 65,000 “regular” H-1B cap and the 20,000 “advanced degree” cap, H-1B extension petitions, and H-1B change of employer petitions are now eligible to take advantage of premium processing.  

With premium processing, employers can pay an optional USCIS filing fee to guarantee a response on their petition within 15 days.  Employers seeking to expedite the processing of a pending H-1B cap-subject case, including cases which require responses to Requests for Evidence (RFEs) from USCIS, should contact an attorney to take advantage of this program.

USCIS Will Temporarily Suspend Premium Processing for All H-1B Petitions

USCIS has announced that starting April 3rd, 2017 premium processing for all H-1B petitions will be temporarily suspended. This suspension may last up to 6 months. While H-1B premium processing is suspended, petitioners will not be able request premium processing for H-1B visa cases.

The temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017.  Meaning, this will apply to ALL petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption (the “master’s cap”). The suspension also applies to petitions that may be cap-exempt.

All H-1B petitions filed with a request for premium processing will be rejected.

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129.

While premium processing is suspended, petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage.

The reason for the temporary suspension will allow USCIS to reduce overall H-1B processing times. 

Possible Expansion of Program to Hire Foreign Students

The number of international students in the U.S. hit a record high in 2014, with more than 880,000 students.  The stakes are therefore high for international college students who are concerned about choosing their majors and finding jobs for after graduation.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is aware of this issue and has proposed a new regulation which would allow F-1 nonimmigrant student visa holders science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees from U.S. universities to extend their initial 12 month optional practical training (OPT) period by 24 months.  The proposed rule would increase the current STEM OPT extension from 17 months to 24 months (for a total of up to 36 months).

Like the current STEM OPT extension regulation, the proposed rule would only allow STEM OPT extensions for students employed by employers enrolled in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

Under the proposed rule, “cap-gap” relief will still be available so as to allow students to automatically extend their F-1 status and employment authorization until October 1st, if they timely file an H-1B petition.  Additionally, the proposed regulations seeks to clarify the STEM field to studies in mathematics, natural sciences (including physical sciences and biological/agriculture sciences), engineering or engineering technologies, and computer/information sciences and related fields, in order to address current STEM needs in the U.S. economy while balancing the potential for future changes.

There will be a 30-day comment period, which will end on November 18th, at which point DHS will be required to review and consider all comments prior to implementing the final regulation.  If approved, this new regulation would allow certain students already working under the STEM extension to request the additional time that would be allowed under the new rule.   U.S. employers and foreign STEM graduates should continue to monitor this situation as it continues to evolve.