Immigration officials extend freeze on fast-tracked H-1B visas

Immigration officials said that, due to a massive backlog of H-1B visa applications, they will suspend expedited approval of any new applications until February of next year.
By Rick Docksai | Aug 31, 2018
H-1B visa applicants who have been waiting for their visas may have to keep on waiting. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Wednesday that its temporary suspension of "premium processing" for applicants will remain in place and expand, causing delays until at least February 2019.

H-1B visas are short-term visas that go out to foreign professionals who have skills or knowledge that relatively few U.S.-born workers possess. The visa program enables U.S. employers to fill key positions by hiring the visa-holders.

H-1B processing currently takes six months, on average. But applicants can get through in as little as 15 days if they or their employer pay a $1,225 fee for the "premium processing program."

The program is allowed to approve a maximum of 85,000 visas a year and has maxed out its quota each of the past six years. This year's applications reached the 85,000-applicant cap in April in less than a week. At the time, USCIS ordered a suspension of new applications to last until September 10.

However, USCIS is now extending the suspension until February 19 of next year. USCIS officials said that the suspension is part of its effort to clear the "backlog" of visa applications. A freeze on more applications will enable the agency to "reduce overall H-1B processing times" as agency staff will be able to work through loads of "long-pending petitions, which we have been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and premium processing requests over the past few months," the agency said in a statement.

The statement also said that staff will prioritize cases that have been in queue for close to 240 days, the standard deadline for the agency to make a decision.

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