On Monday, September 18, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a news release announcing an immediate resumption of Premium Processing for all H-1B visa petitions subject to the fiscal year 2018 cap. As summarized previously by HR Legalist, the H-1B status allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in “specialty occupations” where a bachelor’s or higher degree (or equivalent) is normally required. The “cap” refers to both the “regular cap” of 65,000 employees per year, and the 20,000 cap for individuals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher (the “advanced degree exemption”). Petitioners subject to the statutory cap, including most for-profit and private companies, must proceed through a computer-generated lottery process each April.
Premium processing allows petitioners to pay an additional fee in order to find out, within 15 days, whether their H-1B visa petition has been approved or denied. In April 2017, USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions, citing a backlog of pending petitions. In July, USCIS resumed premium processing for certain “cap exempt” H-1B petitioners, such as institutes of higher education or certain non-profits. With this latest news, cap-subject employers, such as private companies, can also take advantage of premium processing. However, USCIS has advised that premium processing is only available for petitions already pending for the FY 2018 cap, since USCIS has already received enough petitions to meet the cap.
HRLegalist will continue to monitor these announcements and keep you informed. In the meantime, cap-subject employers who are interested in utilizing the H-1B process for their foreign employees should consult legal counsel regarding any questions related to this process, as well as the possibility of utilizing premium processing, either for this coming FY 2018, or for a future fiscal year.