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.