On January 25, 2019, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the agency would reinstate premium processing for H-1B petitions filed last April under the FY 2019 annual quota (the "cap"), including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption (i.e., holders of US master's degrees or higher). This reinstatement of premium processing is only available for pending petitions and will not apply to new submissions, as the FY 2019 cap quota has already been met.

The premium processing service permits employers to pay an additional fee of $1,410 to have an immigration benefit adjudicated within 15 days, and USCIS will return the additional fee to the employer if the benefit application is not timely adjudicated.

The Suspension

Effective April 2, 2018, USCIS suspended the premium processing service for H-1B petitions subject to the FY 2019 cap. On August 28, USCIS extended and expanded the suspension to include all H-1B petitions filed with the California and Vermont Service Centers, including change of employer and amendment petitions. The expanded suspension excludes filings that are cap exempt because the beneficiary will be working at a qualifying cap-exempt institution of higher education, a nonprofit research organization, or a government research organization. The suspension also does not affect H-1B petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center requesting a "[c]ontinuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer."

Next Steps

Employers should consider submitting premium processing requests for pending FY 2019 H-1B cap petitions in hopes of securing a decision before FY 2020 H-1B cap petitions can be filed on April 1, 2019.

The suspension of premium processing for all other affected H-1B submissions remains in effect, consistent with USCIS's August 28 announcement. Though that suspension was expected to continue until February 19, 2019, the agency is now indicating it plans to resume premium processing for the remaining categories of H-1B petitions "as agency workloads permit."

It remains uncertain whether the agency will permit premium processing for FY 2020 H-1B cap-subject petitions, which the agency will accept beginning on Monday, April 1, 2019.

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