U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on August 28, 2018, that it is extending the previously announced temporary suspension of premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions and, beginning September 11, 2018, will expand this temporary suspension to include certain additional H-1B petitions. USCIS said it estimates that these suspensions will last until February 19, 2019, and that it will notify the public via uscis.gov before resuming premium processing for these petitions. The previously announced suspension of premium processing for fiscal year 2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions was originally slated to last until September 10, 2018. USCIS also said it is raising the premium processing fee.

Suspension extended, expanded. USCIS said the suspension will help the agency to reduce overall H-1B processing times by allowing it to:

  • Process long-pending petitions, which USCIS has been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and premium processing requests over the past few months;
  • Be responsive to petitions with time-sensitive start dates; and
  • Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension-of-status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark.

According to reports from employers, an increasing number of employees were insisting on premium processing for petitions due to the increase in denials and requests for evidence (RFEs), as well as USCIS’s “no deference” policy, assertion of its ability to deny cases without RFEs, and its recent initiative to start removal proceedings upon denial of nonimmigrant petitions.

While H-1B premium processing is suspended, USCIS will reject any Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, filed with an affected Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. If a petitioner submits one combined check for the Form I-907 and Form I‑129 H-1B fees, both forms will be rejected. The expanded temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers (excluding cap-exempt filings as noted below).

USCIS said it will continue premium processing of Form I-129 H-1B petitions that are not currently suspended if the petitioner properly filed an associated Form I-907 before September 11, 2018. Therefore, USCIS will refund the premium processing fee if:

  • The petitioner filed the Form I-907 for an H-1B petition before September 11, 2018; and
  • USCIS did not take adjudicative action on the case within the 15-calendar-day processing period.

The suspension does not apply to:

    1. Cap-exempt petitions that are filed exclusively at the California Service Center because the employer is cap-exempt or because the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, entity, or organization; or
    2. Petitions filed exclusively at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “Continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer” (Box b. on Part 2, question 2, page 2 of the current Form I-129) with a concurrent request to:
      1. Notify the office in Part 4 so each beneficiary can obtain a visa or be admitted. (Box on Part 2, question 4, page 2 of the current Form I-129); or
      2. Extend the stay of each beneficiary because the beneficiary now holds this status. (Box c. on Part 2, question 4, page 2 of the current Form I-129).

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to any other nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129, USCIS said.

While premium processing is suspended, petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage. The petitioner must demonstrate that he or she meets at least one of the expedite criteria, and petitioners should be prepared to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite requests.

USCIS said it reviews all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and that requests are granted “at the discretion of the office leadership.”

Increased fee for premium processing. USCIS announced on August 31, 2018, that it is raising the premium processing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, beginning on October 1, 2018. The premium processing fee will increase to $1,410, a 14.9 percent increase from the current fee of $1,225. This increase “represents the percentage change in inflation since the fee was last increased in 2010 based on the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers,” USCIS said.

Premium processing is an optional service that allows petitioners to request 15-day processing of certain employment-based immigration benefit requests if they pay an extra fee. The premium processing fee is paid in addition to the base filing fee and any other applicable fees, which cannot be waived.

USCIS said it intends to hire additional staff and invest in information technology systems with the funds generated by the fee increase.

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