Fast-track processing for H-1B skilled guestworker visas is back on for those visa petitions that were part of last year’s lottery.
The option for “premium processing” allows employers to pay an extra fee to have their visa petitions decided within 15 calendar days. But premium processing hasn’t been available for close to a year, and workers who were slated to start Oct. 1 already are months behind schedule.
The fast-track option still isn’t available for all H-1B visa petitions, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Jan. 25. It will be expanded “as workloads permit,” the agency said.
The announcement is a “helpful sign that further processing improvements are on their way,” William Stock of Klasko Immigration Law Partners in Philadelphia told Bloomberg Law Jan. 28. It will allow for some of the “most critical” delayed cases to be decided quickly, he said.
But while there are still a number of outstanding H-1B petitions, Stock said the “vast majority” of those he filed on behalf of employers last April have already been decided.
“It’s notable” that the USCIS has restored premium processing “after they have finished most of the workload,” said Stock, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
When the continued suspension of premium processing was announced in August, the USCIS had anticipated that it would be back online by Feb. 19, 2019. The original suspension, announced in March 2018, only was supposed to last until September of that year.
The suspension was done to clear backlogs and prioritize H-1B cases that were time-sensitive, the agency said.
“Over the past few years, USCIS has experienced an increased volume of petitions and a significant surge in premium processing requests,” an agency spokesman said in a Jan. 28 email to Bloomberg Law. Extending the suspension of premium processing “enabled USCIS to continue to effectively adjudicate H-1B petitions, particularly long-pending extension of stay petitions, and reduce overall H-1B processing times,” he said.
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(Story updated to include comments from William Stock and the USCIS.)