USCIS announced that as of April 3, 2017, it will temporarily suspend processing of H-1B petitions via premium processing and that this suspension may last for up to six months. This suspension will not affect premium processing cases pending as of April 3, 2017, and these will be processed within the 15-day calendar period (or later if a request for evidence is issued).
Since the FY18 H-1B cap petitions cannot be filed before April 3, 2017, this suspension will bar any H-1B cap cases from being premium processed. The suspension also applies to H-1B cap-exempt petitions, which include those filed by institutions of higher education, governmental research organizations, H-1B extensions and H-1B change of employer petitions.
Although premium processing is suspended, USCIS will still consider expediting H-1B petitions through its extremely challenging expedite criteria. Such criteria include:
1. Severe financial loss to a company or person;
2. Emergency situation;
3. Humanitarian reasons;
4. Nonprofit organizations whose request is furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the US;
5. Department of Defense or national interest situation (request must come from the government);
6. USCIS error; or
7. Compelling interest of the US.
Premium processing is extremely important to those beneficiaries who have pending extension petitions and want to maintain their employment authorization while the extension is pending. The current rule is that the employment authorization of the beneficiary will be extended for 240 days after the expiration of the beneficiary’s H-1B visa status. Therefore, if the beneficiary’s H-1B petition expires on August 1, 2017, and the petition was filed in March 2017, the beneficiary’s employment authorization would be extended for 240 days past August 1, 2017. Petitioners have been converting pending H-1B extensions to premium processing before the filed extension petition reaches that 240-day period but now they will have to wait for regular processing. This could result in a gap in the beneficiary’s H-1B employment.