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Breaking News: USCIS Suspends Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions

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There is never a lack of surprises in the immigration world.  Recently, in addition to the unveiling of the President’s new executive order, USCIS announced that the agency would be temporarily suspending the premium processing program for H-1B petitions.  Beginning on April 3, 2017, and continuing for as long as six months, USCIS will not accept premium processing requests for H-1B petitions.

What is the Premium Processing Program?

Premium processing is an optional service offered by USCIS for certain eligible applications for immigration benefits.  To make use of premium processing, the petitioner must request the service using the Form I-907 and provide USCIS with an extra fee of $1,225, which is in addition to any other filing fee the petitioner may have already paid.  Once USCIS receives these materials, the agency will adjudicate the underlying application within 15 business days.  Since the normal processing time for some petitions is more than one year, the premium processing option has become more and more attractive in recent years.

Details Regarding the Suspension of the Program

Per the USCIS press release on this decision, the suspension of the premium processing option will apply to all H-1B petitions filed on April 3, 2017, until further notice – including all of the H-1B cap petitions, H-1B extension petitions, H-1B transfer petitions, and H-1B amendment petitions.  Any petition filed on April 3, 2017, until further notice will be rejected by USCIS and returned to the petitioner.

USCIS has stated that the reason for the temporary suspension is to allow its adjudications officers to prioritize long-standing applications that have been pending for close to or more than 240 days.

To be fair to USCIS, this suspension should not come as a complete surprise because the agency suspended premium processing for H-1B petitions at this time in 2016 as well.  However, last year, the suspension only lasted a little over a month, whereas this year’s suspension may remain in place for as long as six months.

Effects of the Suspension of the Program

There are many consequences of the suspension of the premium processing program, beyond the mere inconvenience of having to wait longer for a decision on one’s application.  For example, foreign nationals who currently hold F-1 status and are applying for H-1B status under this year’s cap will not be able to travel internationally while they wait for their October 1 H-1B employment start date to begin.  If they travel internationally before the H-1B approval, their change of status request will be deemed abandoned, and they will be required to obtain an H-1B visa before their employment may begin.

Additionally, the suspension will likely affect H-4 spouses who are working in the U.S. pursuant to an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  The EAD must be extended with the foreign national’s H-4 status, which in turn must be extended with the spouse’s H-1B status.  Since premium processing will temporarily be unavailable for H-1B extensions, many H-4 spouses may find themselves without work authorization for long periods of time because H-1B extensions (along with the H-4 and EAD extensions filed with them) can take longer than one year to be approved absent the premium processing service.

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