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Premium Processing Is Back, But for How Long?

Bridge Team Member

H-1Bvisas play an important role in many American businesses, and when policychanges are announced, affected businesses look alive. Some recentupdates in Premium Processing are garnering just such attention. It’s timeto take a closer look.

The processing time for H-1B visasfrom the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been running long. Traditionally,however, employers could bypass this hardship by submitting H-1B petitions with a Premium Processing request – to the tune of an additional $1,225. Because theseexpedited petitions must be considered by the USCIS within 15 calendar days,however, their increased numbers made regular processing times even lengthier.

Addressing the Backlog

To address this backlog, the USCIS announcedearlier this year that it would be taking a hiatus of up to six months from accepting H-1B petitions with PremiumProcessing requests. This suspension came with the stated goal of reducingstandard H-1B processing times and applied to every type of H-1B case.

On Sept.18, the USCIS resumedPremium Processing for all H-1B visa petitions subject to the 2018 cap. TheH-1B cap is set by statute and represents a predetermined limit regarding thenumber of H-1B visas the USCIS can issue to foreign workers in a fiscal year, whichruns from Oct. 1 of the previous year through Sept. 30.

The current annual limit is 65,000regular H-1B petitions for those candidates with a bachelor’s degree and anadditional annual limit of 20,000 for candidates with at least a master’sdegree (the “master’s cap”).

History of the H-1B Cap

The H1-B cap was created in 1990 with a statutory limit of 65,000, but demand didn’texhaust the annual cap until fiscal year 1997. In 1999, Congress nearly doubledthe cap’s quota – which it proceeded to increase again and maintain untilfiscal year 2003. During those halcyon days, employers could bask in therelative calm of plentiful H-1B visas.

In 2005, however, the cap wascalibrated back to 65,000, with an additional 20,000 master’s cap, and applicationsreached its quota on the first day of the fiscal year (October 1, 2004). That’swhen employer anxiety mounted, and the premature quota-fulfillment trend was born. Because H-1B visas are first-come,first-serve, theUSCIS implements a lottery to determine which petitions will be processedif the cap is met within the first five days of application acceptance. Thelottery has been necessary for the last five fiscal years, including2018.

Small Supply, Great Demand

H-1B visas are the lifeblood of Americanbusinesses that look to foreign workers to fill specialized jobs, usually in thetechnology field. Demandfor these visas has reached an all-time high – topping out at 236,000applications for fiscal year 2017. Applications for fiscal year 2018, however,stalled at 199,000, and while the statistics aren’t yet available, many pointto the role today’s atmosphere of uncertainty is playing in employmentdecisions.

To remain relevant in the race forH-1B visas, employers are pressed to submit applications ever more rigorously. Further,the immigration climate fostered by the current administration isn’t conduciveto that boost of confidence employers enjoy. If you rely on foreign talent,now’s probably a good time to pay veryclose attention to changes in the works.


Should you have any questions abouthow this impacts your business or employees, please do not hesitate to reachout to us at support@bridge.us.

Disclaimer: This content is not a form of legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for legal counsel. Bridge US encourages readers to discuss any and all immigration-related concerns with an attorney.


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