USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions
Filed on or before December 21, 2018
On February 15, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will begin accepting Premium Processing requests for H-1B cases filed on or before December 21, 2018. Premium processing is a service by which USCIS normally guarantees a response within 15 calendar days, with an additional $1410 filing fee. Our office charges a flat fee of $250 for Premium Processing upgrade requests.
In addition to H-1B petitions filed before December 21, 2018 the following cases will continue to be eligible for premium processing regardless of filing date:
· Cap-exempt petitions filed at the California Service Center because the employer is cap exempt, or the beneficiary will be working “at” a cap-exempt location.
· Petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center requesting a “Continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer.” In other words, H-1B extensions with the same employer.
· All other categories of petitions filed on form I-129 that are otherwise eligible for Premium Processing, for example TN, E-2, L-1, O-1, etc.
As an alternative to Premium Processing, petitioners may still request “expedited processing” if they meet the criteria outlined here. Petitioners with a pending H-1B petition filed before December 21, 2018 who require a quick decision should consider filing a Premium Processing upgrade request. Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding this information.
DHS Publishes Final Rule to Change the H-1B Cap Lottery Process
On January 30, 2019, DHS announced a final rule that would change the way the H-1B cap lottery is administered. This final rule makes two primary changes to the H-1B lottery process.
First, the rule reverses the order that USCIS will use to select H-1B petitions during the lottery. Currently, petitions for candidates with a US Master’s degree for higher are selected before the regular H-1B cap petitions. Under the new final rule, USCIS will select petitions under the regular H-1B cap first, and then select from the remaining petitions those that will be selected as part of the US advanced degree cap. USCIS estimates that this change will result in a 16% increase in the likelihood that an H-1B beneficiary with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university will be selected.
Second, the final rule will implement an electronic registration requirement for petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions. Importantly, USCIS is suspending this new electronic registration requirement for Fiscal Year 2020 so that the agency may complete user testing on the registration system to ensure it is fully functional. Once implemented, petitioners who want to file an H-1B cap petition will need to electronically register with USCIS during a designated period. When the process is implemented, only petitions whose registrations have been selected will be able to file an H-1B cap-subject petition with USCIS.
The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on January 31, 2019. If you have questions about how the final rule could impact your petition, please contact our office today.
H-1B CAP SEASON – FISCAL YEAR 2020
On April 1, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year (FY) 2020 cap. Employers use the H-1B visa program to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations that require the theoretical or practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, including but not limited to: scientists, doctors, engineers, accountants, and computer analysts and developers. Requested start dates can be no earlier than October 1, 2019.
The congressionally mandated cap on H-1B visas is 65,000. An advanced degree exemption is available for 20,000 beneficiaries who have obtained a U.S. master’s degree or higher. Once that limit is reached, petitions filed for beneficiaries with a U.S. master’s degree or higher will count against the regular cap. Although USCIS has announced plans to implement a pre-registration system for the H-1B Cap lottery, it is not anticipated that this will be in place in time for the Fiscal Year 2020 lottery.
Based on trends for previous years, we expect that the number of petitions will exceed the available slots. USCIS will conduct a lottery with all petitions filed within the first five business days in April. We recommend starting this process in January so the H-1B petition is ready to be filed on April 1st.
Here is a summary of past H-1B Visa Numbers
FY 2019 H-1B Visa Cap:
USCIS received 190,098 H-1B Petitions
FY 2018 H-1B Visa Cap:
USCIS received 199,000 H-1B Petitions
For more information about the H-1B program, or if you have interest in applying for an H-1B Visa for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, please contact our office.
Impact of Potential Government Shutdown on Immigration-Related Federal Agencies
As budget negotiations continue in Washington, the threat of a partial government shutdown looms. Without at least a short-term spending bill, the Government will partially shut down at midnight on December 21st. In order to avoid a partial shutdown, Congress must pass a bill by midnight on December 21, 2018.
Unlike previous shutdowns, if a budget is not reached, only a partial shutdown will occur. The reason for a partial rather than a full government shutdown is because Congress has already funded roughly 75% of the federal government through Sept. 2019, according to a recent CNN article.
During a government shutdown, non-essential government personnel in affected agencies will be furloughed and prevented from working. The following is a list of immigration-related agencies and how they have handled shutdowns in previous years:
- USCIS – Because USCIS is a fee-funded agency, it will likely continue processing applications and petitions as usual. The exception is the E-Verify program, which will likely shutdown.
- DOS –At present, it is unclear how exactly the Department of State will be impacted. Visa and passport operations are fee-funded, but operating status and funding will need to be closely monitored. If visa operations are affected, consular posts will generally only handle diplomatic visas and emergencies. If you are planning to travel internationally and will need to renew a nonimmigrant visa while abroad, please note that visa interviews could be impacted or delayed.
- CBP – Inspection and law enforcement are considered essential personnel. Although ports of entry will be open, the processing of applications at the border may be impacted.
- ICE – ICE enforcement and removal operations will continue. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is fee-funded and will likely be unaffected by a shutdown.
- DOL – The Department of Labor has already received its budget and is thus not a part of the continuing resolution. Therefore, agencies within DOL, such as OFLC, will likely continue operations during a partial government shutdown.
In addition, several specific immigration programs may be impacted. Individuals may be unable to file I-526 Immigrant Investor petitions if they are investing through the Regional Center Program.
Because the situation is rapidly developing, please stay tuned for further updates.