When an application or petition is filed with the United States Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS), the processing time can be very long depending on the current caseload. Sometimes the wait time can last more than a year in order to get a decision on your petition. Therefore, the USCIS provides paths for applicants to accelerate the process through a premium payment. However, the premium processing is only available for work based petitions.
This article details circumstances in which you can request an acceleration in the processing of a petition through a premium payment, eligibility requirements for the premium processing, expected duration, cost, and contact information to the USCIS to resolve any issues.
Eligibility for the USCIS Premium Processing
A premium processing payment only applies to work based petitions. In the petition, applicants must file one of the following forms:
- Applying for a foreign temporary work visa in which the employer must supply the I-129 form
- Employer submitted I-140 form to request a permanent residence card, also known as a green card, for work reasons
- In specific cases, a worker can file a self-petition
To qualify for premium processing, the applicant must hold one of the following visas:
- Visa E-1 for merchant under a treaty
- Visa E-2 fo investor under a treaty
- H1B Visa for special foreign workers or models. In this case, the government has announced a temporary suspension of the expedited process that will resume on September 10, 2018.
- H2B Visa for temporary workers in non-agricultural work
- H3 Visa for interns or exchange visitors in the field of special education
- Visa L-1, L-1B, and LZ for workers transferred within a company or subsidiaries thereof
- O-1 Visa for workers with extraordinary ability in Science, Sports, Art, Education or Business
- O-2 visa for workers who are an important support for the holders of an O-1 visa
- Visa P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, and P-3S for individual and team athletes, artists, and support personnel to participate in a single program or event or as part of a cultural exchange program
- Q-1 visa for foreigners participating in an international cultural exchange program
- R-1 visa for religious people
- TN-1 and TN-2 visa for Canadians and Mexicans under the Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, for its acronym)
- EB-1 visa for foreigners with extraordinary abilities, exceptional professors and researchers, managers and executives of multinationals
- EB-2 visa for professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability
- EB-3 visa for professionals, specialized workers and other workers
Note the USCIS may suspend the premium processing temporarily at any given time. This is especially true given the fragile political climate in the U.S.
Cost of H1B Premium Processing
The current filing fee for H1B premium processing is $1,225. The filing fee does not vary for H1B transfer or extension. This price does not include any legal fees applicants may incur to prepare the form by immigration lawyers. Also, the filing fee may vary so applicants should check with the USCIS website before filing.
If the application is made online using the e-file system, payment can be made by credit card, debit card, or a transfer from a bank account in the United States. On the contrary, if a paper application is sent, the payment must be made by check from a bank in the United States or by money order.
The payment entitles the USCIS to agree to a response within 15 calendar days from the day the request for the H1B premium processing was received with its corresponding payment.
The response from the USCIS does not always mean that approval is obtained, but it can be any of the following:
- A letter of approval of the visa petition or residence card
- A letter that requests more information or documentation that is known as a Request for Evidence (RFE)
- A letter in which the intention to reject the petition is notified. It is known as NOID.
- An investigation is initiated because the petition is suspected of being fraudulent or has been lied to in the same or false supporting documentation has been submitted.
If the USCIS has responded with an RFE or a NOID, the applicant must respond within the time given in the notification. If the agency has initiated an investigation, the applicant must respond within 15 calendar days from receiving the notification.
In rare cases, the USCIS does not respond within 15 days after receiving the request for H1B premium processing. In these cases, the USCIS shall return the cost of the procedure as well as a response on the petition.
How do I Submit Paperwork through Premium Processing?
To request expedited processing, applications must include a I-907 form along with the forms necessary for the visa. For example, a sponsoring company applying for a temporary work visa on behalf of a foreign national will submit I-129 and I-907 when applying through premium processing.
Note that the request for expedited processing can only be requested by the company or entrepreneur or a lawyer who asked for the visa. The beneficiary of the petition can never request it, except in the case where a worker with exceptional qualities seeks a residence card for himself/herself without a sponsor. While some companies may cover the premium processing fee of $1,225 for their employees, it is not uncommon for the applicant to pay for the filing fee.
In addition, the premium processing provider offers a special toll-free telephone number to applicants at 1-866-315-5718. Applicants can ask questions related to the visa petition without going through the main USCIS help line.
Does the Premium Processing Have Restrictions?
Applicants should note going through the expedited application review process does not exclude the application from annual limits placed by the USCIS. Currently, H1B visa has an annual limit of 65,000 visas with an additional 20,000 visas reserved for foreign workers with master’s degree or higher from U.S. education institutions. H2B visa has an annual limit of 66,000 where not more than 33,000 can be employed in the first half of the year and 33,000 in the latter half. If the number of available visas has been exhausted, applicants must wait until the next fiscal year even with the premium processing payment.
In addition, the premium processing does not entitle extra benefits in a lottery base visa to randomly select the beneficiaries of a visa. Examples include all H visas including H1B, H2A, H2B. Note the lottery will only come into effect if the number of applications exceeds the total number of visas available for a fiscal year
Furthermore, premium processing does not apply to petitions that does not start with I-129 or I-140. For example, applicants for the F-1 student visa cannot pay the additional $1,225 fee and get an expedited student visa.
Lastly, with the recent changes in the U.S. immigration policies, H1B premium processing is subject to suspension. For example, the USCIS was halted in recent years and restarted only back in October, 2017 for H1B extension and transfer.