Suspension of H-1B Premium Processing Could Hurt Businesses and Workers

By Reuben S. Seguritan

March 8, 2017


On March 3, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that starting April 3, 2017, it will temporarily suspend premium processing of H-1B petitions. The suspension may last up to six months. The new policy will apply to all H-1B petitions, including regular cap and master’s cap cases, H-1B cap exempt cases, H-1B extensions and H-1B change of employment.

The H-1B program allows American employers to bring into the United States highly skilled foreign workers. H-1B visas are used by people in different fields, such as teachers, engineers, therapists, journalists, entertainers, professors, researchers and doctors. The cap every year is about 85,000. Standard processing of H-1B is up to 9 months. Premium processing costs an additional $1,225 and ensures a response from the USCIS in 15 days.

H-1B petitions with request for premium processing filed before April 3, 2017 will not be affected. The USCIS will continue to premium process them and may refund the premium processing fees if it is unable to adjudicate the petition within 15 days.

The USCIS justified the suspension by stating that it would help reduce the overall H-1B processing times because it would now have the time to process long-pending petitions and prioritize the adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark from the filing of the petition. The 240 day mark is significant for H-1B extension applicants because they are authorized to work for 240 days while their H-1B extension application is pending.

Although the USCIS has given a believable reason for the suspension, the adverse effects on American citizens, American companies and the highly skilled foreign nationals who want to work in the United States is undeniable.

With the suspension of the premium processing, the foreign nationals who need the H-1B visa quickly are first to suffer. They include physicians in J-1 status who are applying to work in medically underserved areas, graduating students intending to change status so they can work and H-1B workers who intend to travel for emergency reasons.

In the technology field, American companies, especially those in Silicon Valley, depend on the H-1B premium processing for them to quickly hire the best engineers and programmers in the world to work for them. But with the suspension of the premium processing, both the American companies and the highly skilled foreign national are in limbo and cannot proceed with the cutting edge advancements that they could be developing.

It is still possible for a petitioner to request for expedited processing in urgent cases. But this is not easy to get because of the strict criteria. The requester must prove to the USCIS one or more of the following situations to justify the expedited processing: severe financial loss to the company or person; emergency situation; humanitarian reasons; nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States; Department of Finance or national security interest situation; USCIS error; or compelling interest of the USCIS.

The suspension of the premium processing for all H-1B petitions looks like it is part of the President’s campaign promise to give jobs to Americans instead of foreigners. But what the current administration may not realize is that their actions may also adversely impact Americans and the United States.