In a move similar to last year, the USCIS has suspended premium processing for H1B visa petitions, right before the April 2 lottery date for 2018. The suspension is expected to be in place until September 10, 2018 but could be lifted sooner at the discretion of the USCIS. While this is a regular occurrence, some sponsors may not be aware of or be prepared for the suspension and longer wait time for approval.
What is Premium Processing and Why Does It Matter?
Premium processing is a fast track review of H1B visa petitions, which can be completed within 15 calendar days instead of a few months. This is an obvious advantage for sponsors or applicants who are awaiting visa approval to make travel plans, living arrangements and other employment-related decisions.
There is an extra fee involved if this route is chosen, paid either by the sponsor or applicant depending on who needs the fast track service, but only the sponsor can request premium processing. It does not increase the odds or being approved or affect the start date of employment, since that is determined by the date the petition is submitted.
Cap-Subject Suspended, But Cap-Exempt Can Still Use Premium Processing
But all that is over now for this lottery season, since the premium processing option won’t be available for any petition that is subject to the annual cap and entered into the lottery. The suspension includes petitions for those with Master’s degrees as well, but any petitions for cap-exempt positions can still use premium processing which is different than last year when all petitions were included in the suspension.
Here is the rationale of the USCIS for the suspension:
- It will reduce overall H1B visa processing times by not offering any petitions priority
- The backlog of long-standing petitions can be reviewed as they approach the 240 day limit
- There has been a surge of premium processing requests the past few years which the USCIS simply cant administer for all cap-subject petition
What is the Effect on This Year’s Petitions?
Essentially, all petitions will have to go through regular processing, including any Requests for Evidence, which is some cases can take months. This is an anxious time for applicants who are waiting to hear if their visa is approved, even if it was selected in the lottery. In addition, sponsors have to delay any staffing plans or replacements as they wait for the approval of their H1B worker.
Two Forms, Two Fees and One Check: Rejection
Beyond this, there is another issue that could trip up some applicants. If the original petition was accompanied by Form I-907 Request for Premium Processing, the Form I-129 petition can still go through. But, if one check was submitted for the fees for both forms then the USCIS will reject the petition. Presumably, this can be amended by resubmitting Form I-129 with a new check, but this is something to avoid due to the delay.
To be fair, the USCIS does request on their website that the premium processing fee be paid in “a separate check or money order”, but new sponsors may not be familiar with this rule or thought it would be simpler to just write one check. This is one more example of how difficult it is to navigate the H1B visa rules without some type of guidance by immigration professionals and support services.
- March 28th, 2018