U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has resumed the Premium Processing option for H-1B petitions filed on or before December 21, 2018. The move marks another step in the growing restoration of this important service option for employers.
The H-1B visa program allows U.S. companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent. USCIS is the agency in charge of reviewing H-1B submissions. Under the Premium Processing service option, USCIS guarantees a processing time of 15 calendar days. However, in recent years, USCIS has suspended the option for select categories of cases during the lead-up to a particularly busy period for H-1B petitions known as “H-1B cap season.” Each fiscal year, the agency collects H-1B petitions starting in the first week of April until it receives a congressionally mandated “cap” of 65,000 H-1B petitions.
During the most recent H-1B cap season of 2018 (FY2019), USCIS announced a temporary suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B cap petitions just 13 days before they would start accepting the cases in April. At that time, the agency said it expected the suspension would last until September 10, 2018. In August 2018, USCIS revised its estimation to February 19, 2019. In addition, they expanded the group of cases with suspended Premium Processing to include to all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers (excluding cap-exempt filings).
On January 28, 2019, USCIS restored Premium Processing for FY2019 cap petitions. Then, on February 15, 2019, they announced that as of February 19, 2019, the option would be restored to all H-1B petitions filed on or before December 21, 2018. Nonetheless, Premium Processing has still not been restored for all groups of H-1B cases. H-1B cases currently eligible for Premium Processing include the following:
- Petitions filed by cap-exempt entities and for beneficiaries who will work at cap-exempt entities
- Petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center seeking an extension of stay with the same employer without change
- H-1B petitions received by USCIS on or before December 21, 2018, including any FY2019 cap petitions (i.e. Petitions filed April 2018 for October 1, 2018 start dates) still pending
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