The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said Friday it will suspend expedited processing for H-1B visa petitions starting April 3. The suspension may last up to six months, according to a USCIS announcement.
"This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times," USCIS said. The agency has not been able to process long-pending petitions because of the "high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years." The move will also help the agency prioritize H-1B extension of status cases nearing expiration.
Expedited consideration can only be requested if certain conditions exist, USCIS said, such as an emergency situation or "the prospect of severe financial loss to a company or individual."
The H-1B filing date is right around the corner and the USCIS is looking to make changes to its system to help deal with the backlog. It normally takes H-1B applications several months to be processed. But paying extra to expedite an application can help move the process along faster, though companies still must be selected by lottery to earn an H-1B slot.
President Donald Trump promised to revise the H-1B program during his presidential campaign, claiming that the H-1B program brings in workers from outside the U.S. and displaces American workers. But it’s unclear if the suspension by USCIS is related to that, or simply because USCIS is overworked.
The agency said it received more than 85,000 petitions — equivalent to a full year’s supply — in just five days last year. It was the fourth year in a row that requests outnumbered supply in less than a week.
Most H-1B visas go to workers in the tech sector, and it’s those companies that are likely to be hurt by H-1B visa reforms.