** LEGAL UPDATE **
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that it has restarted the service known as "premium processing" for all types of H-1B petitions.
By way of background, premium processing is normally available for select types of petitions and requires the petitioning employer to file a Form I-907 and an additional fee of $1,225. USCIS guarantees an approval, denial, or request for evidence within 15 calendar days. If USCIS requests additional evidence, a new 15-day clock begins from when it receives the response. If USCIS fails to make a decision on the H-1B petition within those 15 days, it will refund the premium processing service fee; but nevertheless continue with expedited processing of the petition. This is not, however, a way to get special treatment when it comes to avoiding annual limits on H-1B visas. (See Will Paying for Premium Processing Help Avoid the H-1B Cap?.)
USCIS had suspended the premium processing service for a time, starting with H-1B petitions that it received on April 3, 2017 or later. The reason given was the large number of H-1B petitions on file and the ever-increasing processing times for the regular processing queue. In many cases, petition-decision times had approached eight months. The goal therefore was to allocate resources at USCIS and hopefully reduce processing times for the regular queue.
Premium processing was then reintroduced in stages, beginning with petitions subject to the annual cap, continuing on to petitions filed on behalf of physicians under the Conrad 30 waiver program and interested government agency waivers and some H-1B petitions that are not subject to the cap, and ending with petitions for extensions of a worker's H-1B stay.
That's the good news. The bad news is that, by all reports, an unprecedented number of H-1B petitions are being scrutinized at a level never before observed.
USCIS is issuing record numbers of Requests for Evidence (RFEs), forcing employers to spend large amounts hiring lawyers to help gather documents and evidence and prepare answers to them. It is a situation that many find inappropriately adversarial, and where the RFEs themselves often seem to reflect misunderstandings of the law within USCIS.