The US on Saturday said it is temporarily suspending the ‘premium processing’ of H-1B visas from April 3, eliminating the option of shorter wait times for the programme that helps highly skilled foreigners work at American firms.
Under the current system, companies submitting applications for H-1B visas for potential employees can pay extra for expedited processing, which is known as premium processing.
The suspension is effective April 3, and could last up to six months, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The H-1B visas are widely used by Indian IT majors. Premium processing costs an additional USD 1,225 and ensures a response from the USCIS in 15 days or the fee is refunded. Processing of standard H-1B applications—those that are not premium—takes between three to six months.
“This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing time,” the USCIS said.
The change comes as President Donald Trump is said to be drafting a new version of his court-halted executive order that banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
By temporarily suspending premium processing, the USCIS said it will be able to process long-pending petitions, which they have currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years, and prioritise adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark.
For Silicon Valley companies, many of which employ large number of H-1B holders, this move could signal that waiting time for approval may get much longer.
Under the current system, a company that is sponsoring a potential employee or current employee’s H-1B petition may fill out a form to expedite the processing of that petition, the Verge reported.
Meanwhile, the USCIS also announced that it would start accepting the H-1B visa applications for the fiscal year 2018 beginning October 1, 2017, from April 3.