H-1B premium processing suspension extended and expanded

Employment visas

Several months ago, USCIS announced that it was suspending premium processing for 2019 H-1B cap petitions.  It also announced at the time that the suspension would last until September 10, 2018.  If you filed a cap-subject H1B during the lottery, you were not eligible for premium processing.

On August 28, 2018 USCIS announced that it is extending its suspension of H1B premium processing cases AND expanding the types of H-1B filings that are affected.  It expects the suspension to last until February 19, 2019.  USCIS expanded the premium processing suspension for most H1B filings received at USCIS California and Vermont Service Centers on September 11, 2018 and later. There are a couple of exceptions to the policy though.

H-1B filings that are exempt from the premium processing suspension are:
  1. Those filed at the California Service Center that are cap-exempt because the employer is cap exempt or because the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap exempt institution, entity, or organization.
  2. Petitions filed at Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting an extension of a previously approved H-1B petition “without change with the same employer”.

The USCIS press release also makes clear that the premium processing suspension only applies to H-1B filings. Premium processing is still available in the other visa categories that USCIS normally processes.

USCIS reasoning for the suspension are:
  1. To allow for processing of the high volume of H-1B filings that are already in the system.
  2. To be responsive to petitions with time-sensitive start dates.
  3. Prioritize H-1B extensions of status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark (An H-1B employee whose extension petition has been pending for more than 240 days is no longer eligible to work until the H-1B is approved).

The obvious group of people and companies who will be affected by the premium processing suspension are H-1B transfer employers and employees.  If an H-1B worker is moving from company A to company B, they may not want to actually move to company B until their H-1B for company B is approved. The H-1B portability provision would allow the worker to move to company B without the H-1B approval, but they may not want to risk the transfer being denied and ultimately falling out of status. This could especially be the case when USCIS implements its currently suspended NTA memorandum.

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