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The U.S. Senate has passed the “Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act” which, among other things, allows United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to quickly process more applications through its “premium processing” program. This funding bill was previously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and was signed into law by President Trump this month.
The premium processing program allows certain applicants and petitioners to expedite processing of their requests with USCIS by paying an additional fee. In exchange, USCIS guarantees a response within a certain amount of time, historically 15 days.
The new legislation calls for the expansion of premium processing to include most employment-based immigration applications and potentially all other USCIS benefits. Most notably, the new bill’s expansion includes establishing premium processing eligibility for certain requests for employment authorization and changes of status – two categories that have previously been ineligible for premium processing despite extremely long processing times.
While USCIS has yet to release any information on the agency’s plans for implementing the new law, the bill appears to make the following changes to the premium processing program:
- Establishes eligibility for applicants to request employment authorization documents and receive a response from USCIS within thirty (30) days. The fee for premium processing of these cases is not to exceed $1,500. This includes requests submitted by H-4 and E-2 dependents, among other eligible non-immigrant dependents.
- Establishes eligibility for applicants to request a change of their non-immigrant status to student (F or M) or exchange visitor (J) and receive a response from USCIS within thirty (30) days. The fee for premium processing of these cases is not to exceed $1,750.
- Establishes eligibility for applicants to request a change of their non-immigrant status to that of a dependent to a treaty/trader (E), temporary worker (H), intracompany transferee (L), individual of extraordinary ability (O), athlete, artist, or entertainer (P), or religious workers (R) and receive a response within thirty (30) days. The fee for premium processing of these cases is not to exceed $1,750.
- Establishes eligibility for applicants to request extensions of their existing statuses and receive an expedited response. The fee and processing time will be established by regulation.
- Establishes eligibility for multinational executives and managers to apply for immigrant visa qualification under the EB-1C preference category and receive a response from USCIS within 45 days. The fee for premium processing of these cases is not to exceed $2,500. This expands premium processing of employment-based immigrant visa petitions to include multinational executives and managers where it used to include only “aliens of extraordinary ability” (EB-1A) and “outstanding professors and researchers” (EB-1B) as well as other skilled workers and professionals (EB-2 & EB-3)
- Increases the premium processing fee from $1,440 to $2,500 for all applications and petitions where premium processing was already available. This increase applies to petitioners applying for workers in non-immigrant visa categories such as: E-1, E-2, H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, O-1, P, and TN. Requests for religious workers or temporary workers performing nonagricultural services, the increase is from $1,440 to $1,500. The bill does not appear to change the processing time for these requests, which is currently fifteen (15) days.
- Authorizes USCIS to extend premium processing to “any other immigrant benefit type that the Secretary deems appropriate for premium processing” but USCIS has yet to comment on their position.
The bill also requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide a five-year plan to establish e-filing for all applications and benefits, accept e-payments for all applications and petitions, issue and send e-correspondence to USCIS customers (including decisions and requests for evidence) and improve processing times. DHS must provide its report to an appropriate Congressional Committee within 180 days.
No formal announcement has been made by DHS about plans for implementing this law and when applicants will be able to request premium processing in these categories. As DHS announces plans to implement these new premium processing categories, we will provide information here. Stay tuned for additional updates as we know more.