New Rules for Premium Visa Processing and H-1B Data Hub

March 20, 2019 | Henry M. Mascia | Employment & Labor | Immigration

On March 19, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced two major changes to the H-1B visa program. First, USCIS will allow a modified form of premium processing for H-1B visa petitions that are subject to the annual cap (“cap-subject H-1B petitions”). In the past two years, USCIS had suspended premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions. Second, USCIS will release detailed information about H-1B visa petitioners to the public.

Premium Processing: Two Phases

Premium processing expedites the processing time of a visa petition in exchange for a payment of $1,410 in addition to standard filings fees. Premium processing guarantees a response to a visa petition within 15 days of receiving the premium processing request and payment.

This year, instead of suspending premium processing altogether, USCIS will allow a modified version of premium processing, which will be rolled out in two phases. In the first phase, premium processing will be allowed for cap-subject H-1B petitions where the beneficiary is seeking a change of status, such as changing an F-1 student visa to an H-1B visa. The 15-day clock, however, will not start with the acceptance of the request an payment. Rather, although the premium processing request and payment are still due the first week of April, USCIS has indicated it may not start the 15-day clock until May 20, 2019. As a result, even with premium processing, companies can expect that the earliest they will receive a decision will be June 4th, effectively wiping out any benefit of premium processing.

The second phase, which will be announced in June, will apply to cap-subject petitioners who are not requesting a change of status. This phase of premium processing would apply to H-1B visa petitions for beneficiaries not currently present in the United States. USCIS will not accept applications for premium processing for the second phase until it makes a public announcement that the second phase has begun. Therefore, the premium processing application and payment for petitions eligible for the second phase should not be submitted concurrently with the H-1B petition.

Changes to the H-1B Data Hub

USCIS also announced that on April 1, 2019, its website will include a section called the “H-1B Employer Data Hub.” The H-1B Employer Data Hub will allow the public to search for H-1B petitioners by fiscal year, NAICS industry code, company name, city, state or zip code. The Hub will also allow the public to calculate approval and denial rates and to review which employers are using the H-1B program. Such information has always been available to the public, but USCIS has never made the information this easy for the public to access.

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