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USCIS to Suspend Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions in April 2017

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that effective April 3, 2017, it will temporarily suspend its Premium Processing Service for H-1B Petitions.  Premium Processing is an optional service for certain employment-based petitions and applications in which USCIS guarantees an expedited (15 calendar days) processing time for an additional fee ($1,225.00 as of March 3, 2017). USCIS has stated that the suspension of Premium Processing “may last up to 6 months.” At present, the suspension of Premium Processing is only applicable to H-1B petitions, meaning that other petitions normally eligible for Premium Processing may continue to utilize the service.

USCIS’s announcement affects cap-subject H-1B petitions (both regular cap and master’s cap) for fiscal year 2018, since the filing window for cap-subject H-1B petitions this year does not open until April 3, 2017. The suspension also applies to cap-exempt H-1B petitions (i.e., petitions filed by institutions of higher education, related/affiliated non-profit entities, nonprofit research organizations, or government research organizations). However, USCIS states that it will continue to process Premium Processing requests for H-1B petitions filed prior to April 3, 2017—this applies only to cap-exempt H-1B petitions, since only cap-exempt H-1B petitions may be filed at any time.

H-1B petitioners may continue to request discretionary “expedited processing” based on special circumstances such as severe financial loss to company or individua; emergencies; and compelling humanitarian, governmental, or national interest reasons.

The upcoming suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B petitions may have a significant impact on prospective petitioners and beneficiaries of H-1B petitions because normal—potentially lengthy—processing times will generally be unavoidable. Typically, Premium Processing is utilized to provide both the petitioning employer and the beneficiary more certainty about the outcome of the petition, therefore allowing more effective business or visa planning. For example, an F-1 student whose OPT will expire in the summer of 2017 might seek Premium Processing in order to determine the outcome of an H-1B petition as soon as possible, thus maximizing the ability to arrange back-up options while still in F-1 status.

Please contact your Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC attorney if you have any questions about how this development may affect your case.

Gordon Landefeld