On March 3, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (the “USCIS”) announced that it will be temporarily suspending expedited processing for all H-1B petitions starting on April 3, 2017. The USCIS indicated that this suspension may last for up to six months and will affect any H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017. The USCIS believes that this move will allow it to process long-pending petitions and prioritize H-1B extension of status cases.
By way of background, the H-1B visa program provides temporary visas for highly skilled foreign workers to spend three to six years at sponsoring companies in the United States working in “specialty occupations.” A “specialty occupation” requires the following: (1) a bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum entry requirement for the position; (2) the degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, the position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree; (3) the employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or (4) the nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree. A “specialty occupation” is one that requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor. These fields include, but are not limited to: architecture, engineering, surveying, education, mathematics, biotechnology, chemistry, social sciences, physical sciences, medicine and health, law and jurisprudence, accounting, theology, business specialties, and the arts. No matter the field, the “specialty occupation” must require the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum (except for fashion models, who must be “of distinguished merit and ability”).
Expedited processing of H-1B petitions allowed a company to pay an extra $1,225 processing fee to guarantee that a petition gets resolved within 15 calendar days. If that did not occur, the processing fee would be refunded.
The USCIS indicated that, during the time that expedited processing is suspended, a petitioner may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if it can demonstrate that they meet one or more of certain criteria: (1) severe financial loss to company or person; (2) an emergency situation; (3) humanitarian reasons; (4) it is a nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States, Department of Defense or national interest situation (this particular request must come from an official United States government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the government); (5) a USCIS error; or (6) a compelling interest of USCIS. The burden is on the applicant or petitioner to demonstrate that any of these criteria have been met. Petitioners are also encouraged to submit documentary evidence to support the expedite request.
Further information can be found on the USCIS website: www.uscis.gov.