On March 19, 2019, USCIS announced yet another change for H-1B cap petitions to be filed on April 1, 2019. This update relates to the Premium Processing Option.

USCIS will accept Premium Processing requests concurrently with April 1, 2019 filings but only for those requesting a Change of Status for the prospective employee. USCIS will not actually begin Premium Processing for those petitions until after all data entry processing has been completed for all the FY 2020 cap petitions. They expect Premium Processing to begin no later than May 20, 2019.  Employers who do not request Premium Processing concurrently with the Change of Status H-1B petition may request Premium Processing later, but would need to wait for a further announcement from USCIS accepting upgrade requests.

Premium Processing is the option for which H-1B employers pay an additional fee of $1,410.00 for faster processing of their petition. Specifically, USCIS promises 15-calendar-day processing to those petitioners or applicants who choose to use this service. For H-1B cap cases, if Premium is offered during a particular fiscal year, the timeline is generally a bit longer because USCIS receives a high volume of these cases all at once.

Note that even if an H-1B Petition is approved quickly with Premium Processing, the actual Change of Status would not be effective until the October 1, 2019 start date (or later if a case’s processing time happens to run beyond that date). USCIS states that Premium Processing will be implemented for all other H-1B Cap petitions but not until at least June 2019.

Employers often question whether Premium Processing improves the chances of selection in the H-1B lottery.  It is important to note that Premium Processing does not affect the chances of a petition being selected for processing under the random selection lottery. USCIS expects to receive more petitions than the available cap on new H-1B petitions so a random selection lottery is most likely as in past years.

The H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent. Congress has set a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas per fiscal year. An advanced degree exemption from the H-1B cap is available for 20,000 beneficiaries who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education.

USCIS also announced that a new H-1B Employer Data Hub will be available on its website on April 1, 2019. This will allow the public to search for H-1B petitioners by fiscal year, NAICS industry code, company name, city, state or zip code.


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