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Does your company have foreign employees with currently pending I-140 immigrant visa petitions? If so, you may be interested to know that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently announced an expansion of its Premium Processing Service. The expansion could significantly benefit your company and these workers. Beginning August 28, 2006, USCIS will accept requests for premium processing of two types of I-140 immigrant visa petitions within the third-preference employment-based category (EB-3) for professionals with a baccalaureate degree and skilled workers.   

What is Premium Processing?

USCIS’ Premium Processing Service allows businesses to pay a $1,000 fee in exchange for processing of a petition within 15 calendar days of receipt. USCIS guarantees that within the 15-day period, it will issue either an approval notice, or where appropriate, a notice of intent to deny or a request for evidence. Premium processing has traditionally been available only for the processing of certain I-129 nonimmigrant visa petitions (H-1B, L, etc.).   Employers will now be able to request premium processing for I-140 petitions involving EB-3 professionals, i.e., immigrant workers with bachelor's degrees who are members of the professions, and EB-3 Skilled Workers, i.e., immigrant workers capable of performing skilled labor requiring at least two years of education, training, or experience.

Premium processing is available at the initial time of filing a petition, but can also be requested at a later time.   Beginning August 28, employers will be able to request premium processing on any new I-140 for EB-3 candidates and any pending I-140 petitions that qualify under the expanded service. 

What are the Benefits of the Expanded Service?

Due to the severe backlog of immigrant visas in the EB-3 category, "upgrading" to premium processing may not be worthwhile if your foreign worker cannot adjust status for several years due to the unavailability of visa numbers, or if your foreign worker is not nearing his or her six-year H-1B limit. 

Premium processing could be extremely beneficial, however, for a foreign worker in H-1B status nearing his six-year limit or currently on a post-sixth-year H-1B. There are two ways a foreign worker can obtain an extension of his or her H-1B visa beyond the typical six-year limit. If a foreign worker has a labor certification application or I-140 petition that has been pending for 365 days or more prior to the worker’s six-year limit, he or she is eligible for an H-1B extension in one-year increments. 

With an approved I-140 petition, foreign workers are eligible for H-1B extensions beyond the six-year limit in three-year increments. Getting a three-year extension for these employees, as opposed to filing for multiple one-year extensions, could offer significant savings both in terms of time and cost. 

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like more information on the expanded Premium Processing Service and how it might affect your foreign workers. Whether premium processing is beneficial will depend on each employee’s particular case. Premium processing has not been made available for I-140 immigrant visa petitions in the first-preference (EB-1) and second-preference (EB-2) employment-based categories, but it is expected that USCIS will expand premium processing to include these categories in the future. We will continue to update you as more information becomes available.