Premium processing for all H-1B petitions subject to annual caps will be suspended till September 10, 2018.

Petitions for H-1B visas to begin from April 2 Four things you need to knowCourtesy: Uwe Krella (CC BY 2.0)/Image for representation
news Visa Thursday, March 22, 2018 - 18:04

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that starting April 2, petitions for the popular H-1B visas for the financial year 2019 will be accepted. Those filing for H-1B must do so not more than six months before the employment start date requested for the beneficiary.

H-1B visas have been facing several hurdles since President Donald Trump took office.

Reports suggest that the number of petitions for high-skilled H-1B visas received by USCIS fell for the first time in five years, from 236,000 for FY19 to 199,000 for 2018.

As petitions for the coming fiscal open up, there are some changes being made. Here are four important things to know about H-1B petitions.

Premium processing suspended

Premium processing for all H-1B petitions subject to annual caps will be suspended till September 10, 2018.

During this time, USCIS said it will continue to accept premium processing requests for H-1B petitions that are not subject to the fiscal 2019 cap. This incudes petitions seeking an exemption for individuals with a US master's degree or higher.

The uscis.gov website states that during this temporary suspension, it will not accept any Form I-907 filed with cap-subject work-visa petition. And if a petitioner sends a combined check for both Form I-907 and Form I-129, the agency will refuse both forms. It has added that it will notify public when it resumes accepting premium processing requests.

Why has Premium processing been suspended?

This has been done to reduce the overall time taken to process H-1B. According to the website, this will allow it to process long-pending petitions and prioritise adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark.

However, the USCIS will still accept requests for petitions that are not for FY19.

Requesting for expedited services

While USCIS has suspended premium processing, a petitioner can request for expedited services for FY19. The petitioner needs to meet certain criteria to be eligible for expedited services.

‚ÄúUSCIS review‚Äčs‚Äč all‚Äč expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and requests are granted at the discretion of the office leadership.‚Äč The burden is on the applicant or petitioner to demonstrate that one or more of the ‚Äčexpedite criteria have been met‚Äč,‚ÄĚ the website states.

The criteria includes:

-        Severe financial loss to company or ‚Äčperson‚Äč

-        Emergency situation

-        Humanitarian reasons

-        Nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States‚Äč

-        Department of Defense or ‚Äčn‚Äčational ‚Äči‚Äčnterest ‚Äčs‚Äčituation (These particular expedite requests must come from an official U.S. government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the government.)

-        USCIS error‚Äč

-        Compelling interest of USCIS

H-1B visa annual caps

As mandated by the Congress, the H-1B visa has an annual cap of 65,000 visas each fiscal. This is called the H-1B ‚Äėregular cap‚Äô

USCIS says that it uses the information provided in Sections 2 and 3 (or Part C) of the H-1B Data Collection and Filing Fee Exemption Supplement to determine if a petition is subject to the congressionally mandated cap of 65,000 H-1B visas (commonly known as the "regular cap").

However, the first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a US master's degree or higher are exempt from the cap. This is called the H-1B ‚Äėmaster's exemption‚Äô

Additionally, H-1B workers who are petitioned for or employed at an institution of higher education or its affiliated or related non-profit entities or a non-profit research organisation or a government research organisation are not subject to this cap.

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