On Friday evening, March 3, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will temporarily suspend Premium Processing for all H-1B petitions effective April 3, 2017. https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/uscis-will-temporarily-suspend-premium-processing-all-h-1b-petitions. This action is not related to recent Presidential Executive Orders and applies to citizens from all countries.
Premium Processing is an optional service for H-1B petitions that guarantees initial adjudication of an H-1B petition within 15 calendar days for an additional fee of $1,225. As regular USCIS processing times have increased dramatically over the past 18-months from approximately 2-4 months to upwards of 7-9 months or more, most H-1B petitioners (including UMass) are inevitably paying to have their cases premium processed to facilitate quicker start dates and to facilitate international travel.
USCIS provided no end date to the Premium Processing suspension, but said this suspension could last up to 6 months (through October 2017) thus having a major impact for hiring plans for cap-exempt (non-profit) institutions such as universities and teaching hospitals, many of which have summer/fall start dates that are now in potential jeopardy for international employees. Likewise, this will have very significant implications for our UMass international graduates/alumni who are pursuing their careers in the U.S. and are relying on employers to sponsor their H-1B status.
The suspension of H-1B Premium Processing has the potential to affect many different UMass employees in a variety of different scenarios including those who are:
- Currently employed at UMass and will need to change their existing immigration status from such classifications as F-1/OPT, STEM OPT, and J-1, to H-1B;
- Employees who need to extend or transfer (to UMass) their current H-1B status,
- Any new hires that will require H-1B sponsorship, especially those not currently inside the U.S. in an existing immigration status.
- Current USCIS non-Premium Processing H-1B processing times are taking approximately 7-9 months at present. Once Premium Processing is suspended, we are estimating that standard processing times will not initially improve beyond this timeframe, at least not in the near future.
- A timely filed H-1B extension allows for an international employee to remain in status and continuously work authorized for up to 240-days after the initial H-1B expiration date. Beyond 240-days the employee may remain in the U.S., but loses work authorization and must come off Payroll. Such an individual may not travel outside the U.S. and re-enter until the H-1B extension is approved by USCIS.
- Any employee currently in the U.S. applying for a change of immigration status to H-1B cannot depart the U.S. while their change of status to H-1B application is pending with USCIS. If they do depart the U.S., the application will be considered abandoned and cancelled by USCIS. Therefore, a new or pending change of status H-1B application will infer that the employee may not travel outside the US (including travel to Canada) for any personal or professional reasons until the H-1B case is approved by USCIS (currently 7-9 months).
Finally, it is worth noting that USCIS has stated that they will consider expedited processing requests on a case-by-case basis if the beneficiary/petitioner meets at least one of the notoriously difficult expedited processing criterion which include: severe financial loss to company or person, emergency situation, humanitarian reasons, nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the U.S., Department of Defense or national interest situation, USCIS error, or compelling interest of USCIS. Realistically however, based on previous experience it is unlikely that such a request would be approved by USCIS.
For additional information and specific strategies for your departmental international employees, please contact the International Programs Office. There is a very limited window of time to request Premium Processing for any new or currently pending H-1B case.