On March 16, 2020, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced that premium processing will be temporarily suspended for FY2021 H-1B cap-subject petitions. Once the H-1B cap filing period opens on April 1st, the USCIS will not be accepting premium processing requests filed concurrently with H-1B cap petitions. Instead, the USCIS will implement the following two-phased approach:
Phase One: H-1B Cap Petitions with Change of Status Requests for F-1 Students
Starting May 27, 2020, all H-1B cap petitions requesting a change of status from F-1 nonimmigrant status, including those selected under the Master’s cap, will be eligible for premium processing. The USCIS will notify the public prior to the start of Phase One. At that time, petitioners may file a Form I-907 Request for Premium Processing for eligible pending petitions.
Phase Two: All Other H-1B Cap Petitions
Starting no earlier than June 29, 2020, the USCIS will resume premium processing for all other H-1B cap petitions. The USCIS will notify the public with a confirmed date of Phase Two, after which petitioners can upgrade pending petitions.
Until the USCIS formally announces the start of either phase, any premium processing requests filed concurrently with an H-1B cap petition will be rejected. This two-phased approach is similar to the suspension the USCIS put in place during last year’s FY2020 cap season to better manage premium processing requests. At this time, premium processing is still available for H-1B petitions exempt from the annual cap, including change of employer and extension of stay requests.
What This Means for Our Clients
The USCIS will close its online H-1B registration period at 12:00 PM EDT this Friday, March 20th. We anticipate that the USCIS will run an electronic lottery of registrations and will announce selected registrants by March 31, 2020. The USCIS will then begin accepting H-1B cap-subject petitions for selected registrants on April 1, 2020, and will continue accepting petitions during the filing period, which will last for at least 90 days.
We recommend filing requests for premium processing for all H-1B cap petitions when eligible, unless the prospective H-1B worker is eligible for an alternative mode of U.S. work authorization for at least 12 months. We will be reaching out to clients following the announcement of the lottery results to confirm their decision to file premium processing for selected registrants when eligible during Phase One or Phase Two.
Please note that the USCIS has not yet made any statements regarding any impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the H-1B cap registration or petition filing process. Due to possible reduced staffing and other potential administrative burdens brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, we may see longer processing times across the board, including with H-1B cap-subject petitions. At the time of this writing, USCIS Service Centers are continuing to operate as normal, and we will notify our clients of any updates.