On March 3, 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would suspend all premium processing services (PPS) for the filing and processing of H-1B petitions for up to six (6) months. This expedited service expedites the processing of H-1B petitions, shortening the wait from 6 months or longer down to 15 calendar days. This suspension is a major change from past practice, which had seen USCIS suspend PPS only for H-1B petitions that were part of the annual cap lottery. This 2017 suspension of PPS affects all H-1B petitions that can be filed, including H-1B extensions, H-1B change of employer petitions, and H-1B petitions seeking a change of status, for example to switch someone from J-1 to H-1B.
Who does this affect? It affects many foreign medical graduates who were happy to learn that they have received a match in a U.S. medical residency program, but need to obtain an H-1B visa to start their residency on July 1st. In the past, there was just enough time after the match announcement to get an H-1B approval from USCIS (using PPS) and an H-1B visa U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas. Without the PPS option, many foreign medical graduates will not be able to obtain an approved H-1B petition, much less an H-1B visa stamp for those who are presently overseas, by July 1st; essentially, this means that they will not be able to start their medical residency until months later, if at all. The alternative of seeking a J-1 visa for a medical residency exists, but it may require many new doctors to leave the U.S. for a two year stint at home, once their training has ended, further worsening the current shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S.
This suspension also affects anyone currently in F-1, J-1, J-2, H4, or other nonimmigrant status who has received an offer to work for a “cap-exempt” employer, including universities, colleges, some hospitals, and other organizations that qualify for a narrow exception to the general requirement limiting H-1B petitions to an annual maximum of 85,000 and awarded only through a “cap” lottery that will be fully subscribed in early April. These “cap exempt” H-1B jobs are in high demand, because they can allow an individual to switch status at any time of the year from F-1, J-1 (except those with a 2-year home residency requirement) and other nonimmigrant statuses to H-1B status. Individuals seeking to work for a cap-subject employer, i.e., most employers in the U.S., do not have that option. Without PPS, the individual may have to wait 6 or more months to start the new job, as they will need an H-1B approval from USCIS before they can begin to work. Professors and staff at universities and colleges, as well as workers of all professional occupations that could perform services at a facility operated by a cap-exempt employer will be caught by this decrease in service.
The travel plans of H-1B workers are also affected by this suspension. It has become an annual rite of passage for smart, young workers who finally land a job and get an H-1B approval, to head back to their home country to marry. Whether it is an arranged marriage or a long-awaited union, it often happens late in the summer between
graduation and the start of an H-1B job on October 1st. This year, those people lucky enough to win a prized H-1B number in the annual cap lottery, will not have the option to pay $1,225 to get their case approved in May or June, so they can schedule their marriage for the late summer or early fall, and return with their spouse in H-1B and H4 statuses, respectively, shortly before October 1st. These individuals may be forced to delay their nuptials, or return for the wedding and wait at home for the ultimate processing of their H-1B case by USCIS.
USCIS has stated that it will review requests to expedite the processing of individual H-1B petitions on a case-by-case basis, and based on “strict criteria” discussed at https://www.uscis.gov/forms/expedite-criteria. If past experience is any indication of how this will be administered, it would be wise to assume that absent significant financial losses caused by delayed arrivals of H-1B worker(s), no expedite will be given.
Everyone’s situation and case is different, so if you have questions about how the PPS suspension will affect you, or if you may qualify to have your H-1B processing expedited, please consult an experienced immigration attorney. We will continue to track the PPS suspension and bring you updates when they are available.