Suspension of Premium Processing for H-1Bs Harms US Healthcare

USCIS’s temporary suspension of premium processing for H-1B petitions will have a deleterious effect on US employers, and most importantly on those in healthcare. Many medically underserved areas in the US rely predominantly, and sometimes solely, on foreign physicians. Because many of these facilities are H-1B cap exempt, they are not subject to the lottery and the H-1B beneficiary physician may start working as soon as the H-1B petition is approved (and not until October 1st like those subject to the cap). It is critical that these petitions are approved as soon as possible for physicians in these medically underserved areas. Premium processing, which allows for the expedited processing of H-1B petitions in as little as 15 days, is critical in ensuring the steady provision of healthcare. Now, during this temporary suspension, employers could wait many months (and if based on prior traditional processing, up to one year).

USCIS has stated that its reason for suspending premium processing was to shift resources to traditional processing, which is taking an unacceptably long time (over one year in some cases), in order to alleviate the backlog. However, USCIS is not making any guarantees of how quickly traditional processing will proceed. Therefore, premium processing should remain available, at least in cases of the nation’s interest.

It should be emphasized that an approved petition is not required for the continued employment authorization of a beneficiary pursuant to a pending extension petition or a change of employer petition. The beneficiary may work at the petitioner so long as the H-1B petition is filed before the beneficiary’s current H-1B status expires (with some exceptions), or during the 60-day grace period for those laid off. However, for extension petitions that are timely filed, employment authorization is continued only for 240 days from the end date of the beneficiary’s last H-1B petition. USCIS should revise its policy to allow for continued work authorization during the entire time that the extension petition is pending, since the petitioner and beneficiary should not be punished for the exorbitant delays at USCIS.