What you should know about H-1B Premium Processing in the US
Do you know how long you can legally stay in the US after graduation? Source: Brandon Mowinkel/Unsplash

If you’re an international student currently studying in the US or soon planning to, you will have heard about the H-1B visa.

The official term for a temporary work visa (valid for six years) in the country, the H-1B is popular among international students and foreign-born workers with specialist knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There is a cap over how many H-1B visas are issued each year, meaning not everyone who applies gets approved.

This year, over 200,000 people applied for the H-1B visa for skilled workers, but only 85,000 will receive one – an achievement described as ‘winning the H-1B lottery’.

Over the past decade, the regulations for securing a H-1B visa have become increasingly stringent as immigration policies in the Trump era made it more difficult for foreigners to work in the country.

Several changes were made under the Trump administration, including paperwork changes and eligibility criteria, lengthy delays, the mandatory requirement of a worker’s schedule by employers, as well as rumours over a complete re-tooling of the H-1B system.

Given the rather complicated and rapidly changing facets of the H-1B visa process, it can be difficult to understand the regulations and specific aspects of the visa process in the US.

The latest news about the H-1B is the announcement that the previously suspended Premium Processing service is now being resumed.

But what exactly is Premium Processing?

According to USCIS, “Premium Processing Service provides expedited processing for certain employment-based petitions and applications.

“Specifically, USCIS guarantees 15 calendar day processing to those petitioners or applicants who choose to use this service or USCIS will refund the Premium Processing Service fee.”

This expedited processing service was suspended in March 2018, causing controversy among employers.

As Dice explained, “The general suspension—originally enacted in early 2017—made it more difficult for petitioners to obtain H-1B visas, and for H-1B visa holders to jump jobs or move to new company offices.

“At the time, USCIS claimed that the suspension would give it the time necessary to process a backlog of petitions. It also kicked off much angst amongst companies used to relying on premium processing to meet their staffing needs.”

It was one of the many visa restrictions that made it difficult for employers who depended heavily on hiring foreigners, as well as those who were looking to switch jobs.

Industries suffered too, experiencing a shortage of qualified workers. According to Quartz, “Every single industry experienced a decline in H-1B approvals between 2016 and 2018. Outside of science and technology, agriculture and accommodation and food services took the hardest hit.”

The announcement in March that Premium Processing will now be resumed for the FY (fiscal year) 2020 was met with enthusiasm by those who have grown tired of the long waiting times to get the visa approved.

According to Quartz India, “Through the regular route, it typically takes between two and six months to get a H-1B visa. The idea is that applications are submitted in April and workers start their jobs by October of the same year…

“However, the process has been getting much longer every year, thanks to increased cross-questioning by officials, among other things. The processing times for form I-129, which has to be filed for H-1B applications, has doubled in the past few years.”

The government’s motives to re-introduce this Premium Processing service could be driven by money, as well as pressure from multiple lawsuits caused by delays and poor execution of visa restrictions.

Jonathan Wasden, an immigration attorney, told Quartz India that the USCIS relies on receipts of fees paid with H-1B petitions, and is not funded by tax dollars. They receive fees of US$1,410 under the Premium Processing service.

Wasden said, “USCIS is starting to get sued on the delay of these cases, and is looking for ways to avoid future litigation.”

According to OgleTree, “On May 20, USCIS will begin premium processing for FY 2020 cap-subject petitions requesting changes of status. Employers seeking to upgrade their FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B change-of-status petitions to premium processing must wait until May 20, 2019, to file their requests with USCIS.

“In June 2019, premium processing will begin for all other FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitions. Employers must wait until USCIS provides a confirmed date before filing requests to upgrade their petitions to premium processing.”

Other H-1B issues still prevail, but hopefully the resumption of the Premium Processing service will make it a little easier for employers and workers hoping to receive their H-1B visa.

For detailed information on H-1B Premium Processing, please visit the official USCIS website.

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