Premium Processing Suspension

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the filing fee for premium processing will increase from $1,225 to $1,410, beginning on October 1, 2018.  According to USCIS, this 15% increase in price is in step with inflation since DHS last adjusted premium processing rates in 2010 and will allow USCIS to more effectively adjudicate petitions and maintain service to petitioners.  The new rule was published in the Federal Register on August 31, 2018.

Premium processing is an optional expediting service that is currently authorized for certain employment-based petitioners filing Forms I-129 or I-140.  The premium processing fee is paid in addition to the base filing fee and any other applicable fees, which cannot be waived.  Under premium processing, USCIS has 15 days to process these specific types of employment-based immigration benefit requests.  Without premium processing, adjudication can take upwards of 4 months.

“Because premium processing fees have not been adjusted since 2010, our ability to improve the adjudications and service processes for all petitioners has been hindered as we’ve experienced significantly higher demand for immigration benefits.  Ultimately, adjusting the premium processing fee will allow us to continue making necessary investments in staff and technology to administer various immigration benefit requests more effectively and efficiently,” said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Moore.  “USCIS will continue adjudicating all petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations.”

Premium processing is available for certain employment based nonimmigrant visas, including H-1Bs, L-1s, O-1s and Ps, as well as some employment base permanent residency categories.  Earlier this year, USCIS suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions subject to the annual quota on H-1 visas (i.e. “cap cases”).  This suspension was initially slated to end on September 10, 2018, but USCIS has now pushed that date back to February 19, 2019.  Additionally, USCIS also announced that, as of September 11, 2018, it will expand the suspension to include H-1B petitions seeking to amend existing H-1B status, to request a change of employer, or to change status.  Only H-1B petitions seeking an extension of status (with no change in circumstances or employer) or H-1B petitions filed under the H-1B Cap Exemption will be able to file under premium processing beginning September 10, 2018.  In the absence of premium processing, USCIS may take four to six months (or longer) to complete the processing of an H-1B petition.

Employers and employees alike will have to take into consideration the impact of processing times and increased fees when planning to file nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions.  The unavailability of premium processing can impact the timing of employment and prolong restrictions on international travel.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP, specializing in corporate immigration law and compliance.  Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide.  You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

Words matter. The words of President Trump as President of the United States and as candidate Trump have been heard by the Courts, not of public opinion, but of the U.S. District Court of Hawaii.  In the Court Order enjoining the implementation of the Administration’s second travel ban Executive Order, the words  “Muslim Ban” used by Mr. Trump and his surrogates were found to be a true and impermissible purpose of the ban.  That provides some relief for the citizens of the 6 countries targeted by the ban as does a decision in the District Court of Maryland, HIAS v Trump.  The HIAS case focused on the Order suspending all refugee resettlement for 120 days.  The Court enjoined the application of that ban as well.

The President’s response to the Court Orders in the Hawaii and HIAS cases has been stinging, with a vow to fight on.  There is some relief in the immigrant and refugee communities, but that may be short-lived as a level of unpredictability will likely remain.  Among business immigration attorneys, the relief from the ban eliminates one of the pressing issues with which we are dealing…it’s H-1B season!

This H-1B season is different than those of the past.  For now, natives of the 6 previously banned nations, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen, have a chance to be sponsored by US employers interested in employing them as cap-subject H-1B workers.  Of course, with the expected multitude of H-1B petitions, their prospective employers’ chances are no greater than any others racing to file on April 3, 2017.  Last year, in the “H-1B season” which lasts 5 business days, approximately 240,000 applications chased fewer than 85,000 visas.  Last year, the results began to trickle in by early May, then those lucky enough to be chosen would have their application adjudicated—many using Premium Processing which produced a result within 2 weeks.  Not this year.  Premium Processing has been suspended for all H-1B filings beginning April 3.   USCIS has said that the suspension may last up to 6 months.

Because the start date of a cap-subject petition cannot be earlier than October 1st regardless of whether Premium Processing is used or not, the lack of premium processing is of less concern to those filers whose cases are subject to the lottery than to those which are cap-exempt—filed by academic institutions, non-profit affiliated health care providers and others. The concern is that a professor or medical resident and others may not be start when the semester or residency program begins.  Aside from timing of adjudication, there is concern that applications from all employers will undergo greater scrutiny, which in turn further delays an approval. In addition, it is anticipated that personnel at the various government agencies will be reduced in number.  This includes agencies that process immigration and related applications—further reason for processing delays.  Fortunately, those waiting will include people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen who are eligible to be included among other highly skilled workers who have offers of professional employment that pay at least the prevailing wage.