In a notice posted on its website, the USCIS said the suspension could last up to six months.
The premium processing allowed companies that applied for a H-1B visa and wanted it processed fast to file an additional form (Form I-907) and pay an additional US$1225 to have the process completed in 15 days. Processing an H-1B visa can take up to six months.
The USCIS notice said this action was being taken to enable the processing of long-pending petitions which had been delayed due to the increase in premium processing over the past few years.
US President Donald Trump has said he wants to change the visa issuing process so that Americans get preference in filling jobs. But his administration has not yet specified what changes will be made.
Following his election, Indian IT outsourcing firms have been nervously waiting to see what changes would be made. Estimates have shown that 86% of H-1B visas for IT-related jobs are issued to Indians. A total of 85,000 H-1B visas are issued each year.
Two bills on reform of the H-1B visa system are pending in the US Congress: one, the High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017, was moved by Democrat Zoe Lofgren. An alternative bill has been proposed by Republican Darrell Issa.
The USCIS decision will affect H-1B visa for FY18 as these cannot be filed before 3 April.
The announcement said companies could apply to have an application for a H-1B visa expedited, provided they met certain criteria.
- Severe financial loss to company or person;
- Emergency situation;
- Humanitarian reasons;
- Non-profit organisation whose request is in furtherance of US cultural and social interests;
- Department of Defence or national interest situation (These particular expedite requests must come from an official US government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the government.);
- USCIS error; or
- Compelling interest of USCIS.
Some commentators have argued that changes to the H-1B visa system will not affect US companies, provided no changes were made to the L-1B visa system.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa and allows US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in high-skilled occupations.