Federal authorities will allow expedited “premium processing” for H-1B visas when the government begins taking applications April 1, but the added service will not be applied until up to six weeks later.
That’s according to an announcement Tuesday from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which said it was delaying premium processing for applications subject to the annual H-1B cap so it wouldn’t have to fully suspend it as it did last year, when it cited an application backlog.
This year, premium processing for fiscal year 2020 H-1B visas subject to the annual 85,000 cap on new visas will be offered via “a two-phased approach,” Citizenship and Immigration said.
Eligible for the first phase will be applicants requesting a “change of status” to a different kind of visa, the agency said. But in order to “prioritize data entry” for applications subject to the cap, premium processing — a $1,410 service — won’t start for those petitions immediately, the agency said. Processing for those applications will begin no later than May 20 and the agency will notify the public when it begins, it said. A premium processing request for those seeking a status change must be sent concurrently with the Form I-129 visa application, according to the agency.
For all other H-1B applications subject to the cap, premium processing won’t start until at least June, the agency said. A premium processing request must not be submitted concurrently with these applications, and those wanting the expedited service can apply for it when it’s offered, according to the agency. The public will be notified when a date is set for premium processing to start for applications not seeking a status change, the agency said.
The H-1B, intended for jobs requiring specialized skills, is awarded through a lottery that is usually highly over-subscribed. The visa has become a flashpoint in the U.S. immigration debate. Major Silicon Valley technology firms rely heavily on the H-1B and lobby for an increase to the cap so they can secure top talent. Critics point to reported abuses and argue that outsourcing companies exploit the visa to supply cheaper foreign labor to companies in the U.S., including tech giants.
The administration of President Donald Trump has taken aim at the visa, tweaking the lottery to favor more highly educated graduates of U.S. schools, and ratcheting up the numbers of denials and requests for more evidence that a visa should be approved.