FAQ: H-1B Premium Processing Suspension

The unexpected suspension of H-1B Premium Processing has left many unanswered questions for clients relying on speedy adjudications to plan for employment and travel in the upcoming months.  Our team of experts at Ellis Porter is here for you to address these and other questions while planning your personalized strategy.

What is Premium Processing?

The USCIS premium processing program allows applicants to pay an additional government filing fee ($1,225) to receive an expedited adjudication of their application.  Applications filed under the premium processing program must be adjudicated by USCIS within 15 days.  If a Request for Evidence (RFE) is issued, USCIS has another 15 days to make a final decision after the RFE response is submitted.  Only certain application types are eligible for premium processing.  H-1B applications are one of the application types that can be filed using premium processing.

What cases are affected by the suspension?

This suspension applies only to H-1B applications, including extensions and initial grants of H-1B status. The suspension does not impact other visa classes such as L, E, and O.  If you are applying any other visa classification, you can continue to do so even after April 3rd. 

Can I get my case approved before the suspension takes effect?

Yes, if your application is for a change of employer, extension of current H-1B status, or is otherwise cap exempted.  Those who are not applying for the upcoming cap season can submit premium cases promptly.  Cases must be complete with a certified LCA and any required licenses to avoid a request for evidence that would stop the processing clock.  Filing a case immediately may be essential if you have international travel needs or a driver’s license renewal that is dependent on an approval notice.

If a premium case is filed before April 3rd, will it definitely get done in 15 days?

Not necessarily.  If USCIS finds any deficiency in the application, they can stop the clock by issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE).  It is also not clear whether USCIS intends to honor ongoing premium requests if the reply to an RFE is received after April 3rd.  USCIS has discretion to refund fees when it determines that it cannot meet the deadline of 15 days. Since USCIS will receive a high volume of applications as people rush to use the premium service, it is possible that the “actual” deadline for submission falls closer to March 20th, if they receive more applications than they can timely review.

If I’m filing for an extension of my H-1B, can I continue to work?

Yes.  The law provides for an automatic 240-day extension of employment authorization when an extension is filed on time and the applicant continues to work for the same employer.  If you change employers using portability, you can continue to work for the new employer indefinitely until a decision is reached.

If I don’t make a premium filing before the suspension, how long does regular processing take?

USCIS standard processing times have become very lengthy.   Processing times for the California and Vermont Service Centers were six and eight months, respectively, at last report.  There is hope, however, that the suspension of premium will free up adjudicators to focus on clearing these backlogs.

When will the premium suspension end?

Be prepared for the suspension to last until September. While we remain optimistic that it will be lifted earlier, based on past experience, the volume of applications and a recent hiring freeze will be factors in upcoming months.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes, the law provides for exceptions on a case-by-case basis.  If you have emergency travel plans, humanitarian needs, or will suffer severe financial impact because of the suspension, you should discuss your needs with us to see how Ellis Porter can assist with seeking an exception.