U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will resume premium processing for H-1B petitions at the beginning of June, according to the agency.
Starting June 8, USCIS will accept premium processing requests for H-1B petitions filed before June 8 “that are pending adjudication and are cap-exempt.” On June 15, premium processing will begin for other petitions, including those H-1B applicants who request premium processing “by filing an I-907 concurrently with their I-129” and meet other conditions.
Earlier this year, USCIS slowed processing for many types of visa petitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Beginning with the first day of filing, April 1, 2020, we will not immediately enter data for FY 2021 cap-subject petitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and required health and safety protocols,” read the agency’s note. “Data entry and notice generation will be delayed until at least May 1, 2020.”
At the time, USCIS also indicated that, once it regained sufficient capacity, it would process petitions in the order received: “Petitions, if otherwise properly filed, will retain the receipt date that corresponds with the date the petition is received at the service center.”
The federal government has faced a record number of H-1B applications filed via a new electronic pre-registration system for the 2020-21 fiscal year. That pre-registration system is meant to streamline the application process and reduce the amount of information that needs to be shuttled between applicants and government reviewers. Only pre-registrations selected via lottery will move on to complete the (lengthier) visa petitions.
As COVID-19 has swept the nation, spiking the unemployment rate and restricting travel, critics of the H-1B program have debated whether it should exist at all. At the beginning of May, four U.S. senators (Tom Cotton (R-ARK.), Ted Cruz (R-TX.), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Josh Hawley (R-MO)) sent a letter to President Trump asking for a suspension of all new guest worker visas, including the H-1B, for at least 60 days.
“There is no reason why unemployed Americans and recent college graduates should have to compete in such a limited job market against an influx of additional H-1B workers, most of whom work in business, technology, or STEM fields,” the letter stated.
At the moment, the long-term rate of H-1B denials remains elevated, and it’s impossible to determine the long-term impact of COVID-19 on visas and immigration (the Niskanen Center, a think tank that advocates immigration reform, believes that the pandemic may force more than 250,000 legal immigrants to leave the country by the end of this month).
In the meantime, though, the return of premium processing suggests that USCIS is managing to deal with its COVID-19 backlog.
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