United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has announced that it will extend and expand the premium processing suspension for certain H-1B petitions. This premium processing suspension will continue to include pending FY2019 H-1B Cap petitions and, as of September 11, 2018, will also include all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers (excluding cap-exempt filings). H-1B petitions that will be affected by this premium processing suspension will include H-1B change of employer, change of status, and extension/amendment petitions. This extended and expanded suspension of H-1B premium processing is slated to last until February 19, 2019, and has been implemented to allow USCIS to process long-standing H-1B petitions and to prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension petitions that are nearing the 240-day mark.
On March 20, 2018, USCIS had announced that it would temporarily suspend premium processing for FY2019 H-1B Cap petitions, including petitions seeking an exemption for individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher. This suspension was expected to last until September 10, 2018, so that USCIS could maintain processing timelines for other petitions and to prioritize the adjudication of other H-1B case types, including extensions, amendments, and change of employer matters.
USCIS will accept premium processing for H-1B petitions that are not currently suspended prior to September 11, 2018. As of September 11, 2018, USCIS will reject all premium processing requests for H-1B petitions that fall under this suspension.
While this suspension is in place, an employer may request that USCIS expedite an H-1B petition only if it meets one or more expedite criteria, which includes severe financial loss to the H-1B employer, humanitarian reasons, and emergency situations. USCIS grants expedited requests on an infrequent and discretionary basis.
USCIS will continue to accept premium processing requests for the following H-1B petitions:
In light of this extended and expanded premium processing suspension, H-1B employers should prepare for a longer period of uncertainty regarding the outcome of their pending H-1B Cap petitions, as well as other affected H-1B petitions, which could cause delays in finalizing their workforce and talent strategies.
H-1B petitions in process should be assessed to determine if they should be upgraded to premium processing by the September 10, 2018 deadline.
H-1B Cap beneficiaries (i.e. employees and prospective employees) may be impacted by the uncertainty of whether they have secured H-1B employment for October 1, 2018. Beneficiaries currently in F-1 status working pursuant to cap gap provisions will have to cease employment prior to October 1, 2018 unless their H-1B petition is approved.
Beneficiaries with H-1B petitions filed as a “change of status” should be mindful of longer processing times particularly in the event of international travel plans, as travel abroad can cause the “change of status” aspect of their petition to be deemed abandoned by USCIS. Individuals planning international travel should speak to their immigration counsel regarding any potential impact.
Beneficiaries with H-1B petitions filed as “change of employer” should speak with immigration counsel regarding the timing of onboarding with their new employer.
For further details on this extended and expanded suspension of premium processing for H-1B petitions, or on any other immigration matter, please contact a member of our team at PwC Law LLP.