Our church filed an R-1 visa petition to sponsor a new pastor. We sent the petition to USCIS two months ago, but the agency website says the current processing times are five months. We heard about an option to pay an additional fee and have USCIS approve the petition, guaranteed, within 15 days. If we were willing to pay this fee, would we be able to get our new pastor here sooner than the normal five months?
Your question relates to what’s known as the Premium Processing Service. In some cases, if you file Form I-907 and pay an additional fee ($1,225 as of 2017), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guarantees that it will approve or deny your petition within 15 calendar days; unless it can’t do so because it must request additional documents or information from you before making a decision. If USCIS requests additional documents or information, a new 15-day clock begins from the time it receives your response.
In R-1 cases, the key question is whether USCIS has completed its site visit of your facility. Part of the R-1 petition process involves USCIS sending a person, typically a contract investigator, to your facility to verify the legitimacy of your organization and the proposed employment. The site visit may involve a tour of your primary and branch locations, an examination of relevant documents, and interviews with your employees and church official
If USCIS already has completed the site visit for your petition, you may use the Premium Processing Service for 15-day processing. However, paying the Premium Processing fee will not hurry up the site visit. Unfortunately, many petitioners find that it takes many months for USCIS to complete it.
Also, be aware that, just because someone already visited your facility does not mean that the site visit has been completed. The investigator must submit a report back to the USCIS officer reviewing your R-1 petition. Only after that report is on file and accepted can you submit your Premium Processing request.
So, if the investigator happens to visit today, you should perhaps wait a week or two before submitting the Premium Processing request. If the site visit has been completed, USCIS will cash your check and start the 15-day clock. If not, you'll get your check and Form I-907 back by regular mail. Of course, you can try again a week or two later.
Unfortunately, the site visit is one of the unpredictable elements of the R-1 petition process, and there is no clear guidance on when it happens or how long it takes. As a result, there's a bit of guesswork involved in when to submit the Premium Processing request. Consult an experienced immigration attorney if you want help in monitoring this process and developing a strategy for getting an approval as soon as possible.