U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Monday that it would resume premium processing for all H1B visa petitions covered by the Fiscal Year year (FY) 2018 cap. Congress limits the number of H1B visas each year to 65,000 for all U.S. employers, except for institutions of higher learning and affiliated research facilities. USCIS will also now accept requests for premium processing for the 20,000 additional H1B visas available to individuals who have a masters' or higher degree from an American college or university.
Premium processing currently costs $1,225. Employers who use premium processing are promised to have a decision for the I-129 Petition for an Alien Worker within 15 working days. If the 15- calendar day processing time is not met, the agency promises to refund the petitioner’s premium processing service fee and continue with the "faster" processing of the application.
Earlier this year, USCIS suspended the use of the premium processing program immediately before most employers filed their H1Bs before the April 1, 2018 deadline. This has led to long delays in the processing of this year's cap-subject H1Bs.
H1B visas are limited to individuals who work in specialty occupations. These visas are not available for every job in America, but only a limited category of specialty jobs such as accountant, software developer, physician, etc.
Because the federal fiscal year starts on October 1 each year, the start date of the approved H1B visas is typically October 1 and they last approximately three years. Federal law allows employers to file six months early, i.e., April 1.
Since Congress has limited the number of available H1B visas every year to 65,000, plus the additional 20,000 for individuals with higher degrees, USCIS typically conducts a lottery each year. Some applications are accepted, many are not.
Those applications which were not selected have already been returned. USCIS continues to adjudicate many of the visa applications submitted back on April 1st. Employers who have H1B applications that remain undecided will have to figure out if it makes sense for them to pay for premium processing at this late date.
One final note: H1B premium processing remains unavailable for extensions of the H1B visa, as well as "transfers" for H1B employees from one job to another.