Eight months is the current processing time for an H-1B visa application. Time is money. As a result the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sold “premium processing” for H-1B visa applications, and many other visa applications. Premium processing means that your application will be adjudicated in 15 business days. It cost $1,225 dollars, but two weeks is much faster than 8 months.
On March 3, 2017, USCIS informed the public that it no longer will accept premium processing for the 2018 H-1B visa applications that will be mailed to them as of April 3rd (typically the date is April 1st, but that falls on a Saturday in 2017). USCIS suspends the premium processing program for up to six months while it processes the backlog of applications, some nearing their 240 day mark.
H-1B visas term begins with the start of the United States’ fiscal year, which is October 1st. This date is six months from the date when the flood of H-1B visa applications rains down on USCIS. The day is just like tax day, but for immigration. Last April 1st, 236,000 H-1B visa applications arrived at USCIS. Many of them with an extra $1,225 dollars in revenue for the government. The government will not accept premium processing payments during the suspension. As a result, some H-1B recipients have to wait until after October 1st to begin their employment.
The H-1B visa applications with premium processing not only arrive quicker, but by e-mail. Winners of the lottery that do not pay premium processing receive notice of their application in the mail. It takes days longer to find out if you won the lottery or not. Even after the lucky ones know if they have gotten an H-1B visa, their application takes months to process and for their visa to issue.
The suspension applies to all H-1B applications. This includes cap-exempt H-1B applications that do not have to play the lottery. Universities and their affiliated research non-profits get unlimited H-1B visas because the cap of 85,000 per year only applies to corporations.
This move, the first by the Trump administration, foreshadows future restrictions. It also raised a question regarding the “expedited” processing. An employer can request expedited processing if their employee fulfills the expedited processing criteria. Will this be how the Trump administration becomes an “American first” H-1B policy? Perhaps because of the wide discretion afforded to USCIS in picking what H-1Bs will be expedited and what ones have to wait the approximately eight months to process.